Ecosystems – mountains, wetlands, agricultural land, forests – provide a variety of services that are economically valuable: freshwater supply for human settlements, food production, storm protection, pollination and carbon sequestration. For eons, forests have been valued for the raw material they provide for cooking, heating, building supplies and other uses, but their ecological values have been greatly underestimated.
For the first time, several communities in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal will be able to receive extra payments for the protection of their forests that provide invaluable ecosystem services and benefits. The Forest Certification for Ecosystem Services (ForCES) is the pioneering project behind this initiative. ForCES—led by Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources (ANSAB), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the UN Environment—enabled a team of Rainforest Alliance auditors (in collaboration with the FSC and NEPCon) to perform the first landscape level evaluations of the Gaurishankar and Charnawati Himalayan landscapes for various ecosystem services, including soil, water, biodiversity, non-timber forest products, and carbon values.
The assessments were completed with FECOFUN (Federation of Community Forestry Users, Nepal) and NTNC (National Trust for Nature Conservation, a government body) and included a full FSC forest management audit in addition to the verification of some of the ecosystem services. The results of our Rainforest Alliance team’s on-the-ground field test evaluated compliance with FSC-PRO-30-002 requirements, demonstrating the Impact of Forest Stewardship on Ecosystem Services, and field testing in relation to the ecosystem services provided by the forests that these communities protect. FSC hopes that adoption of its certification standards and tools will assure governments, investors, buyers and businesses that such incentives preserve forest ecosystem services while rewarding forest stewards and communities.
Though the results of these pilot tests are promising, the initiative has several more steps to advance further. It needs to ensure all the environmental service requirements are adaptable to small-holders situations, and there need to be clear procedures and formal guidance on how communities meeting the requirements can access ecosystem services markets locally, regionally, and globally.
It was a great experience for the Rainforest Alliance to work together with FSC, ANSAB, FECOFUN, NTNC, NEPCon and local communities to assess the impact of forest management activities on conserving ecosystem services at the landscape levels. It was also interesting to learn how the FSC ES standards being tested (FSC-PRO-30-002 V1-0 EN) can create the incentives and economic support local community forest management groups need to stay inspired manage the forest resources and landscapes responsibly.
The Forest Certification for Ecosystem Services (ForCES) project is one step of many toward the goal of responsibly managing natural landscapes. With the stewardship of native communities and the support of organizations such as FSC, ANSAB and UN Environment, the Gaurishankar and Charnawati Himalayan landscapes now have a better opportunity to be appreciated in a more holistic manner. This initiative has done more than assess the value of these forest ecosystems. It has also pioneered a field exercise for our vision of greater mission impacts at the landscape level.