By Chevy Devonish
Barama Company Limited (BCL) yesterday announced that the 1.6 million hectares of tropical forest it manages is now the largest single block of tropical rainforest in the world to be Verified Legal Origin (VLO) Certified, allowing for a systems’ audit coupled with tracking the movement of timber/wood stock from the forest to the market place.
Commenting on the relevance of such a move, Mohindra Chand, Head of Corporate Affairs and Forest Planning for BCL, stated that as a responsible and compliant timber company, BCL decided to embark upon this internationally-recognized forest certification path. He also said that the company believes the move represents the true expression of its policy towards the maintenance of the Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) standards.
The SFM is a forest management model developed by the Edinburgh Centre for Tropical Forests in the early 1990s and redefined by the Code of Practice for Timber Harvesting in the early aughts. “Our forests and administration system are amongst the highest in this part of the world, its most defining feature being the sound and internationally accepted standards set by the Guyana Forest Commission (GFC),” Chand proudly stated.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for BCL Clement Ooi added that while other timber companies may have been driven towards VLO certification in response to international market requirements, BCL’s motivation stemmed from it wanting to share with stakeholders its conviction that the company’s operations were on par with international specifications.
Ooi stated that “we thought the best way of achieving this objective is to subject ourselves to the rigid scrutiny of an independent auditor, against an internationally-accepted scheme. This resulted in our company adopting a step-wise approach policy towards forestry certification from a holistic perspective.”
Coinciding with this policy was the crafting of a project by the Forest Products Association (FPA), which was financed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Forest Law Enforcement as well as Government and Trade Awareness at the private sector level, in response to the European Union’s new Timber Regulations.
Stemming from this initiative, BCL along with Variety Woods and Greenheart Limited began working with The Forest Trust (TFT), a global non-profit organization that helps companies and communities deliver responsible products to develop a VLO ready system within their operations.
Prior to the system’s development, the Rainforest Alliance of the United States of America was contracted to assist in the development of a national certification standard specific to Guyana’s forestry sector but based on their international generic standards. Chand stated that this step was followed by an audit of those standards against BCL’s forest surveying, harvesting, tree marking, lag tracking, log hauling, log storage, veneer processing, plywood manufacturing, sawmill conversion and marking systems. This extensive auditing system is referred to as Verified Legal Origin.
Ooi disclosed that in order to facilitate this process, the company’s upstream logging operations, as well as its downstream manufacturing and marketing operations were placed under a single certification policy, the end result of which was that BCL received that VLO certificate on November 7, 2012 after being successfully audited in July, 2012.
Commending BCL on its efforts, Alastair Herd, Project Manager at TFT, said that illegal logging and the trade in illegal timber products undermines the essential elements of countries’ development objectives: peace, security, good governance, the fight against corruption, public sector programmes targeting the poor and sustainable environmental management.
Reacting to public concern and evidence suggesting that illegal timber entering the European Union was a substantial and growing problem, the European Commission in 2003 adopted an EU Action Plan for Forest Law Enforcement Governence and Trade (FLEGT).
As a result, Herd labeled the certification “a great achievement” for BCL, though just a first step, which will enable them to embrace sustainability by demonstrating the legality of Barama’s timber against an internationally-recognized standard.
When asked what benefits stakeholders outside of BCL could expect as a result of this certification, Chand said that the VLO acts as an entry point, assuring all stakeholders, especially customers that timber harvested b the company has been sourced from a legitimate verifiable origin. “In other words, all relevant legal requirements for sourcing the timber have been met to the satisfaction of the Guyanese authorities as well as the auditors,” said Chand.
BCL is one of the older foreign direct investments in Guyana and the largest investment in the country’s forestry sector to date. It entered Guyana in the 1990s as a joint venture between Samling of Malaysia and Sunkyong of South Korea. The latter is no longer part of the business. The company’s value-added operations include sawmilling and kiln drying facilities. It also operates the only plywood and veneer manufacturing companies in the country.