Network for Certification and Conservation of Forests (NCCF) Frequently Asked Questions on Forest Certification

1.1 Forests play a critical role in amelioration of the global environment, alleviating effects of climate change and natural disasters, are an integral part of water and carbon cycles, conserve biodiversity, provide food, medicine, wood and renewable raw materials for our diverse requirements. It is one of the primary sectors that contribute significantly to India’s economy providing a large variety of tangible and intangible benefits for the people at large and are a prime source of livelihood for millions of poor people. Significance of forests on a global scale reinforces the need to manage forests in a sustainable manner and ensure benefits from forests for the present and future generations.

1.2 India is blessed with rich and varied wealth of forests and wildlife, which are being managed on scientific lines for the last more than 150 years. India ranks 10th in terms of forest area in the world as per Global Forest Resource Assessment (GFRA) 2020, accounting for 2% of total forest cover of the world. India has 16 major forest types and is one of the 17 mega-diverse countries with four global biodiversity hotspots. As per India State of Forest Report, 2019, the total forest cover of the country is 71.22 mha (21.67% of the geographical area). The total forest and tree cover constitute 80.72 mha (24.56% of the geographical area) which includes 2.89% (of the geographical area) as Trees outside Forests (ToF). Carbon stock in India’s forests is 7124 million tonnes. The Protected Area Network includes 103 National Parks, 544 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 76 Conservation Reserves and 46 Community Reserves. There are around 1,73,000 villages located in and around forests with an estimated dependent population of around 275 million.

1.3 Forest management is a long-term process. There has been a paradigm shift from timber primacy to ecological and stakeholders-oriented forestry, focus being on sustainable forest management (SFM), an approach that balances environmental, socio-cultural and economic objectives of forest management. Nations have successively endeavored to adopt better practices in forest management. India is among the world’s most forested countries with emerging new challenges of SFM and the growing necessity for enhanced ecosystem services and availability of forest based products for its teeming millions. Forest Certification is increasingly recognized as an important tool and enabler of sustainability in forest management
2.1 Forest and chain of custody certification are sustainability based, voluntary, non-regulatory, facilitative, conservation and marketing tool that promotes sustainable management of forests/trees outside forests. It includes forest monitoring, tracing and labelling of timber and non-timber forest products. It brings in enhanced creditability to our forest governance with international recognition and improves market accessibility of our forest products. It helps us in verifying the missing but desirable components in management plan and practices and in ascertaining the mechanisms to strengthen the management.

2.2 Forest certification helps us aspire for continuous improvement in forest and non-forest management practices resulting in an overall improvement in management practices, quality and quantity of forests. It provides both non-financial and financial incentives, to improve upon the management practices for enhanced environmental, social and economic benefits. It helps increase domestic availability of certified raw material, reduce trade of illegal wood/wood based products, promote domestic industries and MSMEs and encourages robust linkage with domestic markets, at par with the international markets.

2.3 Using forest certification, evaluations are conducted by independent third party certification bodies (conformity assessment bodies) in short the CBs , based on some pre-set parameters (standards), that are internationally benchmarked and covering environmental, economic, social and management aspects.
3.1 After adoption of "Forest Principles" at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Rio de Janeiro, 1992, a global international understanding of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) had been arrived at. Out of the nine internationally recognised initiatives for SFM, one initiative was the Dry Forest Asia Process involving representatives from nine Asian countries viz. Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

3.2 The Bhopal-India Process (BIP) is an offshoot of this internationally recognized process and has semblance with internationally recognized processes specifically the Dry Forest Asia and International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) initiatives on SFM. A number Criteria and Indicators (C&I) have since been developed to evaluate the achievement of SFM at global, regional, country and management unit level. C&I is a tool used to define, guide, monitor and assess progress towards SFM (FAO). C&I are mainly developed at national level to assess status and trends of forests and forest management.

3.3 Creation of C&I for SFM in India triggered of the requirement of a country specific forest certification scheme. MoEF&CC constituted a "Task Force on Initiating Forest Certification in India" in 2004. (State of Environment Report, 2009), which further led to the constitution of a National Forest Certification Committee in October 2007, under the chairmanship of Dr Maharaj Muthoo, an international expert on certification to suggest a framework for initiating forest certification in India. The Committee in its report submitted in 2010 recommended various measures to promote forest certification in India, including development of an internationally benchmarked and India specific certification scheme. NCCF, a non-profit organisation, registered as a society in 2015 took the initiative of developing and operationalising an Indian scheme of Forest Certification.

3.4 NCCF has developed Indian Forest Management Certification Standard through a multi stakeholder Standard Development Group (SDG) represented by professional foresters, premier forestry research and academic institutions of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (ICFRE and IIFM), business groups, forest based industries, NGOs (social and environment related), workers and trade unions, and many more. The standards include key elements of existing models in India viz Bhopal India Process of the IIFM, National Working Plan Code 2014 and the provisions contained in the National Forest Policy for promotion of afforestation, sustainable utilization of forest products and growth of forest-based industries. 3.5 Besides NCCF, various regional and country specific forest certification schemes are Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), American Tree Farm System (ATFS), Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Malaysian timber Certification Council (MTCC), China National Forest Certification Scheme (CNFCS), Australian Forestry Standard (AFS) etc.
4.1 We have 16 different types of forests and a diversity of scientific and traditional forest management practices in India. A domestic certification scheme provides better flexibility and adaptability in addressing the variability and applicability of national policy frameworks, legislations and regulations, keeping in view the specific management requirements of our forest diversity.

4.2 Forest certification as a management and marketing tool contributes towards the implementation of the existing government schemes like Make in India, Skill India and ‘zero defect zero effect’ campaign. It can also be used as a result based financing tool, linking with Aadhar numbers to offer Direct Benefit Transfer to the beneficiaries.

4.3 Its role in verification of the data collected by the State Forest Departments, Forest Survey of India and helping in evidence based decision making.

4.4 Certification can help in developing easy clearance mechanisms, implementing ease of business and trade related to forestry operations and associated activities like land issues, conversion of non-forest land as forest, harvesting activities, grievance redressal, etc.

4.5 Helps in access to markets, which increasingly demand assurances for wood products’ legality and sustainability and in mutual recognition of certified wood and wood products from India with other needing import/export of certified wood/wood products.4.6 A domestic certification scheme should be preferred for the following reasons:

i. Standard developed is with respect to Indian context and conditions

ii. Driven by national stakeholders

iii. Open, transparent and independent

iv. Local standard incorporating global best practices

v. Nationally adaptive and accepted

vi. Internationally Endorsed

vii. Economical (domestic auditors and other aspects)

viii. Promote and facilitate national and international trade

ix. Integration of local needs and expectations
5.1 A certification system outlines the rules, procedures and management for carrying out certification. It establishes specific requirements for a product, process, system or body, and uses a third-party to ensure that the fulfillment of specified requirements has been demonstrated.

5.2 A forest management certification provides forest owners and managers with independent recognition of their responsible management practices. With options to communicate sustainability credentials on products derived from certified forests, environmentally and socially conscious consumers, and responsible businesses and governments can use their purchasing power to support the sustainable management of the world’s forests.

5.3 A credible certification system relies upon three separate functions, performed by independent organisations: standard setting, certification and accreditation.

i. Standard setting is the process of defining certification requirements in collaboration with stakeholders and is coordinated by a standardizing body. (For India: NCCF)

ii. Certification is the process of checking whether an organization fulfills the certification requirements and is carried out by a Certification Body.

iii. Accreditation is the process of assessing the competence of the Certification Body and is carried out by an Accreditation Body. [For India: National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies (NABCB)]
6.1 Standard development takes place using an open, transparent, consultative and consensusbased process that included a broad range of national stakeholders. It is based on a standard setting document developed by the Standardizing Body following the international Benchmark Standards. The steps involved are:

7.1 Certification Systems are developed based on certain procedures, benchmarks and guidelines defined by Standard setting organisations, which are based on international best practices to ensure utmost credibility, taking references from several documents listed below:

National Forest Policy, country specific legislations, regulations, C&I, working plan code etc.

IAF MD 2, Mandatory Document for the Transfer of Accredited Certification of Management Systems

IAF MD 4, Mandatory Document for the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for

auditing/assessment purposes

ISO/IEC Directives, Part 1 Consolidated ISO Supplement — Procedures specific to ISO, Sixth edition, 2015

ISO/IEC Guide 59, Code of good practice for standardization

ISO/IEC Guide 2, Standardization and related activities – General vocabulary

ISO 9000, Quality management systems – Fundamentals and vocabulary

ISO 14020, Environmental labels and declarations – General principles

ISO 14021, Environmental labels and declarations – Self-declared environmental claims (Type II environmental labelling)

ISO/IEC 17000, Conformity assessment – Vocabulary and general principles

ISO/IEC 17021-1, Conformity assessment — Requirements for bodies providing audit and

certification of management systems — Part 1: Requirements

ISO/IEC 17065, Conformity assessment – Requirements for bodies certifying products, processes and services

ISO 19011, Guidelines for auditing management systems

EN 643, Paper and board – European list of standard grades of recovered paper and board

ILO No. 87, Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948

ILO No. 29, Forced Labour Convention, 1930

ILO No. 98, Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949

ILO No. 100, Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951

ILO No. 105, Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957

ILO No. 111, Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958

ILO No. 138, Minimum Age Convention, 1973

ILO No. 169, Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989

ILO No. 182, Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999

United Nations, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007

United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, 1998
8.1 Accreditation Body is the third independent functioning arm of the certification system. An Accreditation Body (AB) will periodically assess the competence of the certification bodies.

8.2 When developing a national scheme and certification system, a national AB should always be preferred. The AB must be a member of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) or of one of the IAF regional accreditation groups.
9.1 Certification audit is carried out by the certification (conformity assessment) bodies that are required to be accredited under an international system of accreditation which in India is operated by the National Board for Accreditation of Certification Bodies (NABCB), a constituent Board of the Quality Council of India, which is member of the international body, International Accreditation Forum (IAF), and has signed the mutual recognition arrangements with the IAF, thus bringing international equivalence to India's certifications.

9.2 QCI is a non-profit autonomous society registered under Societies Registration Act XXI of 1860 to establish an accreditation structure in the country, to establish and operate the National Accreditation Structure for conformity assessment bodies; providing accreditation in the field of education, health and quality promotion and to spread quality movement in India by undertaking a National Quality Campaign.

9.3 It is an autonomous Council under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, under the administrative control of the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) and functions through its 05 Constituent Boards, which are as under:

i. National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies (NABCB)

ii. National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL)

iii. National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH)

iv. National Accreditation Board for Education and Training (NABET)

v. National Board for Quality Promotion (NBQP)

9.4 Presently, NABCB is offering accreditation services to the CBs across various sectors including Voluntary Certification Scheme of the National Medicinal Plants Board for AYUSH Products, Forest Certification including Chain of Custody Certification against NCCF and PEFC schemes, Environmental Management System (EMS), Energy Management System, Global G.A.P, GHG Validation and Verification, Food Safety Management system, etc.
10.1 Network for Certification and Conservation of Forests (NCCF), a not for profit organisation of India, is actively engaged in diverse conservation activities including, development of globally benchmarked and India specific sustainability certification standards for various constituents of our natural resource base, viz, Forests, Trees outside Forests, Non-Wood Forest Produce, Protected Areas and Wetlands, Quality Planting Material, Ecotourism and Biomass & Biofuels, etc., as its core working area, besides policy advocacy, training and capacity building and multistakeholder engagement.

10.2 The Indian scheme of forest certification developed by NCCF, which is internationally benchmarked and country specific, has been endorsed by PEFC, giving it an international recognition. The scheme was launched in January 2018 and got PEFC endorsement in February 2019 and has been operational since then. NCCF is the only member [National Governing Body (NGB)] of PEFC Council from India.

10.3 NCCF promotes sustainable management of natural resources in collaboration with diverse stakeholders including Central Ministries, State Governments, State Forest Departments, academic and research institutions, renowned forestry and biodiversity experts, civil society organisations, forest dwellers, farmers groups and workers bodies, industry and industry associations, etc.

10.4 NCCF entered into a Mutually Recognition Arrangement (MRA) with NABCB for offering accreditation to competent certification bodies. NCCF FM Accreditation from NABCB demonstrates competence level of the CBs to perform FM certification audits as per internationally recognized ISO 17065 Standard and NCCF Standards. CBs are accredited based on the organizational and technical competence of an organization to conduct certification activities like auditing and report writing. Also as part of accreditation requirement, NCCF conducted a three days NCCF FM Auditor Training for experienced forestry professionals in December 2019
11.1 Certification audit is carried out by the Certification Bodies (conformity assessment bodies) in short CBs, that are required to be accredited under an international system of accreditation, which in India is operated by the National Board for Accreditation of Certification Bodies (NABCB). NABCB provides accreditation (authorization) to various certification and inspection agencies in accordance with ISO standards, national guidelines and international requirements.
12.1 Chain of Custody certification provides independently verified assurance that certified wood contained in a product originates from well-managed forests. The entire flow of wood material from forest to consumers must be monitored and documented to demonstrate its origin. In addition, this minimizes risk that timber is from illegal harvesting and enables companies to demonstrate alignment with regulatory requirements (e.g. European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR). CoC Certification is available worldwide and open to all companies that manufacture, process, trade or sell forest-based products.

12.2 CoC Certification is carried out by independent third party i.e. Conformity Assessment Body or Certification Body. The audit will include activities that cover document review, procedures, SOPs, meeting with top management, compliance with legal regulations, field inspections etc following standard operating procedures
13.1 NCCF-FM standard incorporates all aspects and components of National Working Plan Code 2014 in its Principles, Criteria and Indicators. Thus, if NWPC is followed, vital objectives of SFM and certification requirements are easily met. NWPC is an important component of FM certification. Certification brings in many other components of SFM which are internationally required to be complied with in order to be qualified as a certified forest. These additional requirements may vary from simple documentation to many other things. The outcome being continuous improvement in forest management.

13.2 NCCF-FM Certification Standard provides a tool to create a brand image through global recognition. It helps in periodic monitoring, evaluation and assessment by Independent third party. It ensures that forest management activities are complying to internationally benchmarked forest management practices, International Laws, Treaties and Agreements. It ensures active engagement of stakeholders in planning, implementation monitoring and evaluation. It incorporates the components of welfare, health and safety of people. It also looks at other aspects of forest managements like forest hydrology, biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation, value addition, exploring new products and markets. Hence it will help accessing the loopholes in forest management activities and will further help making production efficient
14.1 Forest Certification provides both non-financial and financial incentives to the forest departments and forest-based stakeholders to improve upon their management for enhanced environmental, social and economic benefits. In many cases, the most immediate benefit of certification for forest managers is the streamlining of forest operations due to improvements in efficiency and greater control of production processes.

14.2 Certification has been shown to be a valuable tool for positioning products in the marketplace and in certain sectors. Certification can also provide confirmation that a product fulfils legal requirements – such as those established by laws aimed at preventing the trade of illegal timber products – and may help producers and traders in fulfilling administrative obligations. Forest certification may help bring about improvements in the working conditions and safety and health of forest workers, lead to improved forest conservation outcomes, and encourage sustainable forest use. Forest certification can help boost the public image of companies – both those that pursue certification in their own forest operations, and those that purchase only certified products.

i. Environmental Benefits:

Certification enables Forest Departments to manage forests while maintaining environmental safeguards including - use of permissible pesticides, safe collection and disposal of toxic wastes, controlling invasive species, minimising negative impact on soil and water resources, enhancing ecosystem services and identification and management of high conservation value forests.

ii. Economic Benefits:

Forest certification enables the forest managers and stakeholders to get premium price for their products and facilitates value addition and access to the new markets apart from brand recognition due to use of certification logo and international recognition of good management.

iii. Monitoring Benefits:

Certification being Independent third-party evaluation adds value and credibility to the findings of periodic monitoring, and thus enables the forest departments to keep check on desired outcomes from their management interventions. iv. Management Benefits:

It will bring the forest management at par with internationally benchmarked practices. Additionally, it strengthens regular capacity building of staff and workers, which catalyzes efficiency in operations, emphasis on value addition, improved marketing with better markets, better product positioning and visibility. v. Safeguards Social Attributes:

It contributes towards social and gender equity, enhancing livelihood opportunities for locals, health and safety for forest workers, respecting rights of tribal and local communities and active engagement with the stakeholders.

vi. Compliments Country’s International Commitments:

Forest certification contributes to promoting SFM, REDD+, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), commitments under the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and in meeting the objectives of various international commitments under the UNFCCC, UNCCD and UNCBD, etc
15.1 Many State Forest Departments have initiated action for certification of a few forest divisions. Recently, Uttar Pradesh Forest Corporation (UPFC) has taken up certification of 13 forest divisions with an area of around 4 lakh hectares using NCCF Forest Management Certification Scheme.
16.1 PEFC Endorsed system needs to review the standard/scheme within five years of its national approval.
17.1 The clients (State Forest Department, State Forest Department Corporation, Corporates, Companies, domestic and international Buyers etc.) have to bear the certification cost.

17.2 Forest certification and development of certification standards are eligible activities under Compensatory Afforestation Fund Rules, 2018 is one provision for financing certification expense. Besides states can use other financial provisions too.
18.1 Notifications means that a Certification Body has been recognized by NCCF to perform audit against NCCF Certification Standards following certain rules and regulations as presented in the accreditation and certification requirements for CBs operating the NCCF FM Certification Scheme.
19.1 Once certified client becomes eligible to use NCCF/PEFC logo on-products and off-products.
Globally the two most well-known forest certification systems are Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), both committed to the cause of SFM. Together, PEFC and FSC have certified around 525 million hectares of forests across the world.PEFC, established in 1999, is an international non-profit, non-governmental organisation promoting SFM through third-party certification. It is an umbrella organization that works by endorsing nationally developed forest certification schemes, following the PEFC Benchmark Standards, under a mutual recognition system. PEFC is now a leading global alliance of 53 national members, with 46 endorsed national forest certification systems, accounting for around 325 million hectares of certified forests. The Indian Forest Certification Scheme developed by NCCF has been endorsed by the PEFC.
21.1 PEFC Endorsement and Mutual Recognition helps national certification systems to gain international recognition for the national forest management standard and sustainable management practices in that country’s forests and provide the certified entities with market access through PEFC. The prime objective of PEFC Endorsement is to determine whether a national forest certification system meets PEFC Sustainability Benchmarks and conformance to PEFC requirements.

21.2 The national forest certification system undergoes rigorous third-party assessment against PEFC’s unique Sustainability Benchmarks to ensure consistency with international requirements. During the assessment process, an independent, PEFC-registered assessor conducts the assessment, contacting the applicant (National Governing Body member) at specific times throughout the process to seek inputs and clarification, and ultimately producing the assessment report which makes recommendations and informs the PEFC Board of Directors and the PEFC General Assembly during their considerations related to the potential endorsement of the applicant system. Generally, the assessment process lasts between 7-12 months from application submission until the PEFC General Assembly votes on its acceptance.

21.3 A global public consultation is an integral part of PEFC's assessment process. PEFC announces a 60 day global public consultation on the PEFC website and invites all interested stakeholders to submit their comments related to the applicant system which has applied for endorsement. The assessor evaluates the consultation results and includes them in consideration in the final assessment report.

21.4 During the assessment period, the assessor carries out a field visit to gather additional information about the system and interviews the NGB and relevant stakeholders.