Reforming Forestry, from the Ground to the Canopy


An exciting new Australian Government initiative is breathing new life into RAFT. Thanks to AUD 6 million in support, we are embarking on a second phase of RAFT that, together with Australia’s just-passed Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill, will set the tropical timber trade on a cleaner, greener path.

RAFT now links the resources of Australia and the US to complement the work that other big timber markets — like the European Union and major supplier nations like China and Indonesia — are doing to tighten the rules of the timber trade and supply the global market with responsibly sourced timber that benefits local and global economies while conserving the environment and mitigating global climate change.

Through RAFT, the Conservancy will continue working with the same alliance of dedicated partners — only now, we will focus on having an even bigger and more lasting impact by widely disseminating knowledge and tools, targeting existing national and local institutions with the mandate and ability to scale up the learning from individual sites, and facilitating dialogue and information exchanges among forest stakeholders and timber trading partners.

Stay tuned to this space for more updates, and remember that you can help support RAFT by being a conscientious consumer and choosing to buy certified legal and sustainable wood products.

Over the last two decades, the Asia-Pacific region has lost nearly 100 million acres of forest. The damages aren’t limited to the dusty, brown scars carved into the earth.

Orangutans were depending on those forests for shelter. Entire ecosystems required them to stay healthy.

Local people — roughly 500 million of them — need the forests of Asia-Pacific intact if they’re to continue earning a living. And you need them to absorb and store carbon dioxide while continuing to provide floors, doors and furniture. Our economies need them, too.

You may not hear a tree that falls in the forests of Asia-Pacific, but you feel its loss — we all do. There’s an almost incomprehensibly vast network of people, stretching across our globe, who affect — and are affected by — these forests.

The Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade (RAFT) program funded in its first phase by USAID’s Regional Development Mission for Asia and now by the Australian government together with the ongoing support of the U.S. Department of State has become a central hub in that network. RAFT is helping to make every aspect of forest management and trade in Asia-Pacific — the world’s leading timber-producing region — more sustainable and responsible.

Turning the Tide

Throughout much of Asia, which contains nearly 19 percent of the world’s forests and half of its people, illegal logging and deforestation run rampant. However, recent studies show that forestry reform efforts over the last decade have been successful in beginning to rein in the problem. Since the program started in 2006, RAFT has been a major player in the sustainable forestry movement.

RAFT is a powerful coalition of organizations that empowers people across the region to keep Asia’s forests healthy. Partners include The Nature Conservancy, IUCN, The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), RECOFTC - The Center for People and Forests, The Forest Trust (TFT), the Tropical Forest Foundation (TFF), TRAFFIC - the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, and WWF's Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN).

RAFT partners target six Asia-Pacific countries: China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam. These are some of the places (and RAFT is looking to have an impact in even more countries) where the region’s last dense forests are found and where trees are turned into the wood products that stock American and Australian stores.

Making the Problem the Solution

For tangible evidence that RAFT is working, look no further than the nearly 3 million acres of forest that the program has helped obtain Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, which verifies that a forest company’s timber has been responsibly harvested. The efforts of RAFT (and programs like it) have also helped trigger a spike in certification efforts across Indonesia.

In addition to helping forest companies reduce their environmental impact while maintaining and enhancing ecosystems, RAFT is helping local people to exercise their rights and sustainably manage their forests. For example: in northern Lao PDR's Luang Prabang province, RAFT helped 51 teak-growing families legally register their teak plots, securing important rights such as exemption from land taxes and compensation for appropriated land. Under the Luang Prabang Teak Program, farmers learned how to manage their teak plots more sustainably and price their wood competitively. As a result, the farmers have been granted the country's first FSC certification for a community-managed forest and are selling to an international buyer for double the price received from local traders in the past.

RAFT has also trained nearly 1000 business representatives in the new timber legality requirements of major markets like the U.S., Europe and now Australia. This includes helping factories in major wood processing centers put in place systems to ensure that the timber they use is coming from responsible sources. Companies like Indonesian furniture manufacturer Integra and its 70,000 employees are becoming part of the solution rather than the problem. Integra recently bought the rights to two concessions that are now — with RAFT's help — FSC-certified. 

“In the past our industry has been perceived as very negative,” Integra owner Halim Rusli says. “But we can show to the world that Indonesia is not a country where illegal activities are still protected. We can manage the process right if we want to.”

Throughout the region, RAFT partners have established themselves as trusted advisors dedicated to procuring sustainable, equitable forestry results. That’s made it easier to introduce environmentally friendly logging methods — like the monocable winch system — that make the day-to-day work of harvesting timber more sustainable.

The Bigger Picture

Many of RAFT’s accomplishments are visible on the forest floor, but the program is also taking a canopy-level view of the problems confronting the region’s forests. By establishing regional networks on hot topics like Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)+, RAFT has helped to channel lessons from ground-level work into regional and global discussions about policies and financing.

One of RAFT’s strengths lies in the immense base of practical and scientific know-how that its highly experienced forest practitioners bring to bear on sustainability. By providing forestry companies and governments with that knowledge through established relationships and regional events like the annual Forests, Markets, Policy and Practice International Conference in China, RAFT is connecting policy and practice in ways that better protect Asia-Pacific forests. Over four years, business sector representatives have grown to account for 65 percent of the conference's total attendance, demonstrating the event's success in engaging China's forest products industry around changing market requirements and practical steps they can take to be more responsible.  

“Through RAFT, the U.S. and Australian governments are at the forefront of efforts to improve both the policy and practice of forest management,” says Jack Hurd, the Conservancy's Asia-Pacific deputy managing director. “RAFT shows what is possible when these major markets pool their resources. We hope that this partnership continues to grow in scope and harnesses the resources of even more actors who are interested in using the timber trade to protect Asia Pacific’s forests.”


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