- Kenyan woodcarvings can now also be bought with a certificate, guaranteeing that the popular handicrafts are not causing deforestation and environmental destructions. In addition, the new certificate is to secure the livelihoods of Kenyan craftsmen and the provision of wood from small farms.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification has been introduced in Kenya, resulting from a cooperation between the handicraft industry, environmentalists and farming societies. The project encourages the use of farm-grown trees instead of threatened hardwoods for carving, thereby securing carvers' livelihoods and providing a new income source for farmers.
Woodcarvings made from neem rather than over-harvested hardwoods, such as ebony, can now carry the FSC logo, giving tourists and other consumers peace of mind that the carvings have not contributed to the destruction of the forests of eastern African.
The certification is also unusual in that it certifies wood from small farms for the production of carvings by Kenyan craftsmen, instead of the most common FSC certifications of large-scale, commercial timber production to supply the timber trade and well-known do-it-yourself stores.
In Kenya the woodcarving industry supports up to 60,000 carvers, in addition to their families and suppliers. The handicraft industry generates an estimated income of over US$ 10 million per year, of which a considerable part are export earnings. The world-famous carvings are especially popular among tourists.
Yet, the economic success of the industry has undermined the resource on which it has been based - threatened hardwoods - according to environmentalists. More than 20,000 threes are felled each year to sustain the woodcarving industry, which is concentrated to the coastal cities of Mombassa and Malindi. Until now, re-planting has been minimal.
The certification project helped to introduce a new income source to around 1,000 farmers supplying neem wood for carving, which has secured the livelihood of 3,000 carvers on the coast of Kenya. As a result, one of the threats to the Eastern African coastal forests - which are of global conservation priority due to their richness in unique plant and animal species - has been diminished.
The new certificate is also celebrated by international environmentalist groups. "Achievement of FSC certification for the small rural-based wood producers and processors is confirmation that certification is not just a practical forest management tool for large forest blocks," said David Maingi of WWF's East Africa Regional Programme Office.
- The FSC certification will contribute to conservation of threatened East African forests and help to improve livelihoods for poor farmers in Kenya, Mr Maingi added.
According to Susanne Schmitt of WWF, the new certification gives consumers an ethical choice when choosing a Kenyan carving. Now, the challenge was to "develop a large enough market for certified carvings to generate sufficient returns for the farmers and carvers to continue producing wood and carvings in compliance with FSC standards," Ms Schmitt added.
The project's success had largely been due to a partnership between WWF, Oxfam, Kenya Gatsby Trust, Kwetu and the National Museums of Kenya. "The partnership has brought together the necessary skills in conservation, business development, marketing, quality assurance and capacity building," the project's promoters say.
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