The final challenge: Countries considering VPA and FLEGT licensing are turning to Indonesia for advice

By Mike Jeffree

Other FLEGT VPA countries are now looking to Indonesia to learn from their VPA and FLEGT licensing experience.

Access to Ghana’s Wood Tracking System could be informed by lessons learned from Indonesia’s SILK system


In August last year, a fact-finding mission from Ghana visited Indonesia to get under the skin of its FLEGT-licensing system.

With their country now at an advanced stage of EU FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) implementation and expected to be next to start FLEGT-licensing, the Ghanaian group were there to learn how their Indonesian counterparts surmounted the final challenges of their VPA, to quiz them on the launch of their licensing system last year and how it’s operated since.

They included representatives of government, public and private forestry and timber sectors, and civil society organisations (CSOs). They were hosted by the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MOEF) and met with politicians, businesses and the civil society groups charged with providing independent monitoring for FLEGT licensing and its supporting SVLK timber legality assurance system. They also visited a door factory to see how licensing impacts daily business.  


The Ghanaian group visit Indonesian door maker Corinthian

The wider significance of the trip is that it wasn’t an isolated occurrence. Since starting licensing, Indonesia has shown itself a willing teacher; open to sharing its expertise and experience across the FLEGT VPA and licensing process. 

It has communicated with countries at very different stages of the initiative, and discussed issues with them at international events.  It has also hosted visits from others besides Ghana. To date these include Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, plus key trading partners not directly involved in the VPA programme, but with a vested interest in it, notably China.

As a result, a year on, Indonesian FLEGT licensing is not seen just as an end in itself, but a reference point for the wider EU FLEGT initiative. It would be wrong to describe it as a template for other VPA supplier countries, as their agreements and licensing systems will evolve to reflect their individual social, political, economic and environmental conditions. But it is providing key lessons and pointers.

Dr Phuc Xuan To, senior policy analyst with Forest Trends in Vietnam focused on Indonesia’s approach to achieving broad stakeholder engagement.  

“We can learn from them about establishing third-party verification and monitoring for their FLEGT VPA framework and from their comprehensive inclusion of local NGOs in FLEGT VPA negotiations,” he said.

According to Ghanaian Forestry Commission Timber Validation Department Director Chris Beeko, Indonesia’s example had also shown the importance in VPA implementation of political and social consensus.

“It presents a picture of coordinated effort in all areas of policy making,” he said. “We’ve taken that message on board.”

Guyana-EU FLEGT facilitator Alhassan Attah agreed that Indonesia had demonstrated the significance of civil society engagement, especially with respect to indigenous groups. “That’s critical to achieving the good timber and forestry sector governance a VPA demands,” he said, adding that the Indonesian example also highlighted that private certification and a FLEGT VPA are “mutually enforcing”.  

He also added that Indonesia’s experience gave other FLEGT VPA countries a more accurate idea of the cost of achieving licensing stage, while the sales impact of their licensed products revealed both market opportunities and challenges they faced.

Over the last 12 months Indonesian CSOs have also liaised with their opposite numbers in other FLEGT countries.  “We mostly communicate remotely, but CSOs in Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam have all visited Indonesia and we’ve been to Myanmar to share perspectives,” said Mardi Minangsari, of Indonesia’s Environmental Investigation Agency and a prominent figure in the country’s CSO umbrella group and official FLEGT monitor, the Independent Forest Monitoring Network (JPIK).

From their communication with Indonesian counterparts, said Warangkana Rattanarat, Thailand Country Program Coordinator for the Center for People and Forests, Thai CSOs had learned the potential of a FLEGT VPA to raise industry standards, and facilitate SME involvement. “It presented a vision of forest and trade governance that was transparent, accessible, decentralised and credible,” she said.


Thai CSO-led FLEGT community group meeting. Photo courtesy of Warangkana Rattanarat

Myanmar CSOs have also been active in their links with Indonesian groups.  “They have some parallels with us on political issues and we learned how CSOs mobilised, engaged with stakeholders and advocated to government, international NGOs and the EU,” said Salai Cung Lian Thawng of Myanmar’s Pyoe Pin public/private sustainable development programme.

According to their report, the Ghanaians ended their mission to Indonesia with plenty of practical ideas for their FLEGT VPA process. That included providing greater access to their online Wood Tracking System, based on the example of Indonesia’s SILK timber legality information system.

They were also wished success in reaching FLEGT licensing stage by MOEF Director General of Sustainable Forest Management Dr Putera Parthama, who said the more FLEGT-licensed products on the EU market, the greater consumer confidence they would generate.

And confidence is another outcome of their contacts with Indonesia, said other FLEGT VPA country representatives.

“Previously people asked if it would ever be possible for a country to issue FLEGT licences,” said Harrison Karnwea, former Liberian Forestry Development Authority Managing Director.

“Now they have the answer. Indonesia’s success has reawakened belief that it’s achievable and practical.”