We give the word to smallholders – the people we cannot fail

In this month’s chapter, the spotlight is on small- and family forest owners, the people who founded PEFC and implement our standards every day on the ground.

Millions of small- and family forest owners manage about 30% of the world's forest area. This makes them crucial partners in our work to achieve sustainable management of the world's forests.

Rather than only reporting about smallholders, we will give the word to them and hear their stories and thoughts about PEFC and sustainable forest management.

“PEFC is like a global handshake on sustainability”

Sven Erik Hammar is a smallholder in Sweden. In his video, he tells us about the meaning of PEFC for him and other smallholders, and takes us on a tour into his forest.

His forest covers 660 ha, half of which is productive forest land, the other half is marshland and mountain birch forest. The forest has been in his family for 200 years at its present site.

The PEFC certification of his forest is of special importance for Sven Erik. “I know that forest owners all over the world have the same benchmark. It’s like a global handshake on sustainability.”

Sven Erik mentions the study ‘European Family Forest Owners’ views on Forest Certification‘, a joint project of several organisations and associations representing forest owners in Europe.

“The study shows that PEFC as a system is best suited to include the smallholder perspective. In particular the possibility to balance social, environmental and ecological sustainability in one discussion.”

“Smallholders are a great resource,” he says. “We can provide the world with sustainably grown products from the forests. Our forests.”

source: https://pefc.org/news/we-give-the-word-to-smallholders-the-people-we-cannot-fail

Making forest certification work for everybody

Small- and family forest owners – the little guys – are important stewards of the world’s forests. From our very beginnings, we have had their needs at heart. 

All over the world, smallholders are managing their forests sustainably, yet certification remains out of their reach – simply because they don’t have the means to obtain it.

PEFC was founded by small- and family forest owners, and from early on, we were aware that the costs and procedures of forest certification can be a significant obstacle for them.

While we never compromised on sustainability – our requirements must be met by everyone, independent of size – we wanted PEFC certification to be attainable for all forest owners, including those with limited financial means.

The solution is group certification, a mechanism we established almost twenty years ago.  It allows smallholders to organize themselves in groups and pool their resources to achieve certification.


How does it work


Smallholders who wish to become certified don’t go through the certification process alone, but in a group with other smallholders within their region.

This lowers the administrative burden and allows them to share the cost involved in meeting and auditing against our requirements. In addition to reduced costs of certification for forest owners, group certification also enables additional benefits, such as peer-to-peer support, collaboration and sharing of knowledge and best practices.

Importantly, however, while group certification allows for small forest owners to collectively apply for certification, the requirements remain the same, and every forest owner must meet the requirements in order to achieve certification. This is verified through third-party audits, supplemented by a robustly designed internal auditing system. 

Why is this so important?


PEFC certification ensures that the management of forests is socially just, ecologically sound and economically viable. It enables smallholders to sell their timber as PEFC certified, helping them meet numerous public and private procurement policies and gain access to international markets.

Enabling smallholders to achieve PEFC certification is not only vital for them, but also for the world. 25% of the world’s forests are owned by families and communities, and the way those forests are managed can have an influence on the climate, biodiversity and health of our planet.

Latest developments – making the best even better

Although group certification has been highly successful, we continue to develop our Group Forest Management Certification benchmark standard, making the best even better.

Over more than two years, a working group revised the standard, which was approved by our General Assembly in November 2018. Key changes in the standard include improved requirements for internal auditing, such as risk based sampling groups and minimum sample size, as well as the strengthening of the groups’ management system.

By adjusting our requirements for the internal auditing process, we can be even more assured that all forest owners within a group are managing their forests in line with the PEFC requirements.

Our group certification approach has already enabled around one million small-forest owners to achieve PEFC certification, and the number continues to grow. This is a testimony to the fact that forest certification is possible for small landholders, and that it is a powerful and cost-effective way of promoting sustainable forest management.

source: https://pefc.org/news/making-forest-certification-work-for-everybody

Trees outside Forests: PEFC reaches beyond forests

Last year, PEFC revolutionized forest certification by moving it out of the forest. Now, people and organizations owning or managing trees growing outside of forests can achieve PEFC certification of their sustainable management practices. 

This is a big leap forward. But what does it really mean on the ground?

Trees outside forests are immensely important for rural communities around the world. Millions of people rely on this resource to provide them with food, materials and their livelihoods. If managed sustainably, they can contribute to rural development, food security and reduced poverty – vital Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We find these trees throughout landscapes, from scattered on farms and settlement land, to growing in hedgerows and alongside fields. Often, trees are just one of many crops grown by a farmer or a community. 

The challenge

For many smallholders, farmers and communities, managing their trees sustainably is second nature, and they have been doing so for generations. However, with no certification suited to their specific conditions, they face challenges accessing markets to sell their timber or non-wood forest products. 

This is why we developed our pioneering approach towards certification of Trees outside Forests, also known as TOF.

Starting in 2015, we focused on an approach that would be practical and affordable to farmers and other land managers, while maintaining the stringent requirements of PEFC sustainable forest management certification. In this way, we have made it possible for landowners and managers to demonstrate the sustainable management of their trees.

“I have always been concerned that smallholders growing trees in agricultural landscapes are disadvantaged or even discriminated against in international markets. This is because it is difficult for them to meet international standards that apply to larger forest areas. So this is much needed,” said Tony Bartlett, Advisor to the ACIAR Forestry Program, speaking about PEFC TOF certification at the World Agroforestry Congress.

The next steps

In 2018, the PEFC General Assembly approved the requirements for Trees outside Forests, as part of the revised PEFC Sustainable Forest Management benchmark.

Following this approval, national forest certification systems need to develop their own TOF certification in line with the international requirements, but adapted to local conditions. Leading the way is India. Currently in a draft state, stakeholders will soon submit it to PEFC for endorsement.

Once the Indian TOF standard has achieved PEFC endorsement, smallholders in the country will be able to apply for PEFC certification for their trees outside forests – the first in the world to do so.

Implementation of TOF

Part of the PEFC Sustainable Forest Management benchmark, specific requirements within the benchmark have been adapted for the unique TOF context. For example, rather than the management aiming to maintain or increase forests and their ecosystem services (8.1.1), the management instead aims at maintaining or increasing the cover, value and/or diversity of trees in the landscape and their related ecosystem services.

source: https://pefc.org/news/trees-outside-forests-pefc-reaches-beyond-forests

PEFC governance & standards development: Clarifying roles and responsibilities

The PEFC General Assembly is PEFC’s highest decision-making body. How much fame can it claim for our most widely known output, our internationally recognized forest certification standards? The short answer is: close to none. The General Assembly has important decisions to make, but the actual content of our technical documentation is not part of it. 

“In PEFC, standards are developed by standard setting working groups,” explains Dr Michael Berger, Deputy Secretary General and Head of Technical Unit at PEFC International. 

“These working groups, comprising all relevant and interested stakeholder groups, are instrumental in the development of our standards and responsible for building consensus on a final draft standard.” 

The role of the PEFC General Assembly, as well as the PEFC Board of Directors, is limited the formal approval of the final draft standards. 

“This formal approval is necessary so that the final draft standards can in fact become PEFC standards. Without this approval through the PEFC governance bodies, they could be anybody’s standards,” highlights Dr Berger. “The General Assembly and the Board of Directors approve the standards – or can decide not to do so – but don’t have a say about the content. Neither can change a single word.”

Responsibilities of the PEFC General Assembly & the Board of Directors

So what is the PEFC General Assembly responsible for? It has quite a number of important task, focusing on the administration and management of PEFC as an association. This includes decisions about our statutes, budget, appointing the Board and membership.

Our Board of Directors supports the work of the General Assembly by preparing the budget and the meetings of the General Assembly and members meetings, as well as formal oversight and guidance of our work within the secretariat.

Impartiality at heart

That our governance bodies do not have much of a say concerning the content of our standards is done by design, explains Dr Berger. 

“We wanted to ensure that our standards benefit from the best available knowledge, from the best practices on the ground, and from the latest scientific information. This means that we needed to ensure that everyone involved in the standard setting process can speak their mind, that there’s no vested interest, no hidden agenda. To achieve this, our standards are developed independently from our governance, ensuring a high degree of impartiality.”

source: https://pefc.org/news/pefc-governance-standards-development-clarifying-roles-and-responsibilities

Our Board of Directors – in the service of PEFC

At PEFC, key decisions are not made by one person alone. We ensure that decision-making is done through consensus-driven processes that involve a wide range of parties, and that no single stakeholder or stakeholder group can become too powerful.

While the General Assembly, our multi-stakeholder governance body, has the final say on decisive issues, our Board of Directors has an important role to play in support of it.

The Board comprises the Chairperson of PEFC International, two Vice-Chairs and two to twelve Board members elected by the General Assembly for a three-year term.

Development over the years

From the beginning, the diversity and equal representation of different groups was fundamental for the composition of the Board, as engraved in the original 1999 PEFC statutes:

“The constitution of the Board members should intend to reflect the major interested parties who support the PEFC, the geographical distribution of the members and the diversity of their annual cutting categories.”

Changes in society’s understanding as to what diversity entails triggered a modification in our statutes in 2002, with the requirement of “appropriate gender balance” within the Board added to promote women’s rights. 

In 2005, Kathy Bradley was the first woman to be elected into the Board. Director of External Affairs for The Paper Federation of Great Britain, she was nominated by PEFC UK. After 2005, more women followed. 

Currently, five of our 14 board members are women, including both of our Vice Chairs, and we continue to work on achieving an appropriate balance of all genders. 

Our growth from a purely European organization to a global organization expanded our own understanding of diversity, as we acknowledged the need to ensure that indigenous people are represented. We were honoured when Minnie Degawan, an indigenous Kankanaey-Igorot from the Philippines and an activist for indigenous people’s rights, joined our Board in 2010. She worked as a Project Coordinator for the International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal People of the Tropical Forests (IAITPFT) when she joined our Board.

In 2013, we welcomed Juan Carlos Jintiach to our Board. A member of the Shuar, an indigenous group in the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador, he has worked extensively with indigenous communities and organizations. He is Coordinator of the International Economic Cooperation and Autonomous Indigenous Development for COICA.

The PEFC International Chairs

In its 20-year history, PEFC has seen four Chairpersons leading its operations.

Henri Plauche-Gillon was our first Chairman and one of the founding fathers who established PEFC in 1999.

It was during his term that we opened our first office in Luxembourg, welcomed our first 31 members, endorsed the first systems and got our very first certified hectares of forest.

He was followed by Michael Clark, former Chairman of PEFC UK and Vice-President within M-real Corporation’s Consumer Packaging Division, who took office from 2006 to 2009. During his term, our area of certified forests reached the 200-million hectare mark and we relocated the PEFC International offices from Luxembourg to Geneva, Switzerland.



William V. Street Jr led PEFC International from 2009 to 2016. Working as Director of the Woodworkers Department of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Bill brought experience in directing forestry projects around the world.

During his term of office, we endorsed the first standards in Asia Pacific and Africa.

Our current Chairman is Peter Latham, OBEHe was Chairman of PEFC UK before he joined the PEFC International Board in 2011 and elected to his current position in 2016. Peter had worked for James Latham PLC for 44 years, including eleven years as Chairman.

In his term of office, we reached 300 million hectares of PEFC-certified forest and 20,000 companies with PEFC Chain of Custody certification.

Learn more about our Board of Directors here!

source: https://www.pefc.org/news/our-board-of-directors-in-the-service-of-pefc