The Quang Tri Smallholder Forest Certification Group has been awarded the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification making it the first group of small forest owners in Vietnam to receive the internationally recognised standard for environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable forest management.

Spanning 118 forest households living across five villages in two districts of Gio Linh and Vinh Linh, the Quang Tri group collectively achieved certification for 317ha of acacia.

Since then, the smallholders have signed a contract with the Global Forest&Trade Network (GFTN) in Vietnam, which offered a price 25 percent higher than the local market price for uncertified timber.

In addition, FSC timber is accepted with lower diameters, and wood that was previously sold as cheap industrial chipwood.

Combined with direct sales from the farmer to the factory, without intermediate traders, certification leads to an estimated 50 percent higher income compared to uncertified timber.

"The FSC certificate is a credible trademark linking us to customers, both national and international," said Hoang Duc Doanh, director of the provincial Department of Forestry Protection.

"As one of the poorest provinces, responsible forest management is a new way to stimulate the Quang Tri economy and therefore the livelihood of local communities," she said.

The certification process is a part of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)'s Linking Trade Demand and Sustainable Forest Management project, which aims to provide market linkages between production forests in Vietnam and the growing number of international companies with responsible purchasing policies, through credible third-party certification of responsible forest management under FSC.

In exchange for these benefits, farmers gradually improve forest management.

Biodiversity areas for strict protection are delineated and the use of native tree species is encouraged among the farmers in order to avoid large scale, even-aged monocultures that damage the environment but also put the plantations at risk of pests and diseases.

The majority of Vietnam's 2.5 million ha of plantation forests are managed by forest smallholders, most of them poor rural households.

Since the late 90s, the demand for FSC-certified wood from Vietnamese furniture exporting companies has increased dramatically and is almost entirely met by expensive imports from overseas.

However, the model demonstrated by the Quang Tri farmers shows that group certification is an effective solution for both the country's forests communities and the country's burgeoning furniture industry.

Viet Nam's forest strategy aims to certify 30 percent of the country's 4.48 million ha of production forests in the next decade.

As a result, there is a significant potential for the government, GFTN-Vietnam and the private sector to expand this pilot approach to a larger area, including WWF priority landscapes where the approach is highly suitable for the management of biodiversity corridors.

"We are so proud to have the Quang Tri Group awarded FSC. After two and a half years, we have successfully piloted a group scheme for responsible smallholder acacia management in the province," said Sebastian Schrader, project manager and GFTN-Laos manager./.