Yusuhara Forest Owners’ Cooperative (YFOC) is the second organization, and first forestry cooperative to acquire Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)® Forest Management (FM) certification in Japan. Located in Shikoku Island, the smallest island of the four major Japanese islands, Yusuhara Town is a small town where forests occupy 91% of the land. Typical of Japanese mountainous villages, many residents own small area of forests, and delegate management to the forestry cooperative. In Japan, there are over 600 such forestry associations nationwide, and there are laws and regulations specifically for forestry associations. Forestry associations play a central role in private forest management in Japan.
In 2000, when YFOC was working toward the first FSC FM certification as a Japanese forest cooperative, FSC was not known at all in the country. Even the concept of forest certification itself was totally new, and there was no Japanese auditor with previous experience. Despite having no English-speaking staff, the Cooperative held a series of workshops in cooperation with Rainforest Alliance, prefectural and municipal government, and (WWF) Japan, which was promoting FSC. It was a slow start: forest owners willing to join the group certification were limited, and the certification started with 97 members and 2,249 hectares of forest. In the 17 years since then, most of the cooperative members have joined the certification group, and certification has grown to include 1,476 members and 13,412 hectares. Today, you can find FSC trademarks in many places in the town, including local elementary schools and the town hall buildings.
A big challenge in getting FSC certification is the divergence between the reality in Japanese forest industry and global forestry issues. While deforestation is a major global problem and is seen as a major threat to many global forests, the major problem in Japan is the abandonment of established plantation due to unprofitability of forest industry and depopulation. In Japan, vast areas of forest plantation were established as a national policy from 1950s to 1970s in mountains heavily disturbed before and during the World War II. While the forests have matured and are ready for harvesting, low timber prices have created a situation where sales of harvested trees do not cover the cost. Also, depopulation of aging of rural villages has led to a lack of young labor, resulting in unmanaged plantations, where the thin, unhealthy conifer trees are crowded with little understory vegetation because the sunlight cannot penetrate the dense crown. The unmanaged plantations also have little biodiversity and poor watershed function. As such, contrary to the tide of forest conservation, abroad, in Japan, more plantation trees need to be felled in order to restore a healthy forest ecosystem.
The cooperation and commitment of the municipal government was a key factor behind the initiative of YFOC to achieve FSC certification and steadily expand the certificate scope. Yusuhara municipal government has focused on the town’s existing resource — environment— and has taken various measures for sustainability as a designated environmental model city. Wind power generation and small-scale hydroelectric power generation using a small are examples of such actions. Expanding the impact into the community, many households have also installed solar panels on the roof. YFOC also makes wood pellets for biomass fuel using wood waste from its certified sawmill (CoC certified). The municipal government has a long-term goal: as a “low-carbon town friendly to living organisms,” the town aims to achieve 100% self-sufficiency of energy by 2050.
In Japan, the recognition and understanding of FSC is still low, and certification does not necessarily lead to price premium or increased sales. Even after 17 years of certification, most certified wood is still sold as non-certified. So one wonders “why do you still continue FSC certification?” To the question YFOC members answered with smiles, we have been trying to manage our forests responsibly as a matter of course even before getting FSC. However, by getting the certification, we became more conscious about the environment and the value of what we are doing. We are now proud that what we are doing is the global standard that we can boast to the world.” The bright smile showed the pride of the organization that pioneered FSC certification in Japan.
*The Rainforest Alliance is proud to have been a founder of the Forest Stewardship Council and continues to be a leading certifying body for FSC.