Photo: Joe Townsend, Flickr/cc.
Honduras started negotiations with the EU in 2013 and the VPA was signed 14 June 2018. Indeed, the Honduran VPA seems to have triggered a national groundswell. By reducing the power of bureaucracy, Hondurans working to implement the VPA are sending a strong signal to other sectors. In terms of transparency and methods of consultation, the forest sector is by far the most advanced industrial sector in Honduras.
Honduras has around 6.6 million hectares of forest, covering about 60 per cent of its land area. Forests are important to the Honduran economy, providing jobs and livelihoods for local people. Between 1990 and 2010, however, almost three million hectares of Honduran forests were destroyed.
Less than 2 per cent of Honduran timber exports Honduras are to the EU. Honduras has chosen to negotiate a VPA as a means to improve law enforcement, transparency and overall forest governance. In entering into a VPA process, Honduras aims to enable its wood products to meet the due diligence requirements of US legislation that prohibits imports of timber of illegal origin.
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One of the most striking aspects of the Honduran VPA process is that the collective enthusiasm for resolving problems is seemingly unsinkable. Linked to this, one of the VPA’s most significant contributions is the will to take advantage of its opportunities: the Honduran VPA process has set in motion demands that go beyond the forest sector.
The signature of the agreement, 14 June 2018, took place after intense debate among all players. A legal review is being carried out by the Presidency of the Republic, to ensure that the Agreement is in line with the Honduran legal framework. Once this step is taken, it will be referred to the National Congress for discussion and approval, allowing progress towards ratification.
The shadow cast by post-election uncertainties on VPA participants has seemingly been dispelled. Stakeholders on the national working group (Comité técnico) are elaborating a five-year plan to establish priorities for inserting the VPA into the social context. CSO relations with the government officials responsible for day-to-day tasks continue to be positive, and cooperation runs smoothly.
“We are beginning the most important phase, implementation, and working very hard,” says José Filadelfo Martinez, a member of the working group and of Fundación Democracia sin Fronteras. “We have the major goal to issue FLEGT licences in five years’ time, but to do this we must address a broad range of details. We need small victories already by next year.” Where to begin? At present, the debate revolves around the simplest, most effective way to reinforce the powers and resources of the institutions responsible for implementation, such as the national-level Institute of Forest Conservation (ICF).
The VPA is seen as an opportunity to address the historical problem of regularising land tenure for small communities, indigenous and otherwise. Difficulties concern coordination between the institutions involved – the ICF, Instituto Nacional Agrario, Instituto de la Propiedad – and the significant resources it takes to work on the issue. Nonetheless, they are now defining goals and timetables, including how many hectares to regularise each year.
One goal is to strengthen the institutions in charge of enforcing obligations stemming from the VPA framework, and to develop the expertise needed to check for infractions in the forest sector; environmental issues are not currently a priority of the national police and the public prosecutor’s office (Ministerio Público). Initially, the institutions concerned (Ministerio Público, Procuraduría General y Corte Suprema) must devise a joint plan in this sensitive issue for governance in Honduras.
The numbers of actors involved creates another enforcement problem. Directly or indirectly, the VPA affects some 30,000 small producers – perhaps more, as numbers are uncertain, especially in the informal sector – located across a variety of municipalities, implicating a host of controllers and local authorities. To create a culture of legality, it is necessary to build the capacity of small producers, so they can comply with the legal timber trade requirements. Efforts here would have a positive effect on the domestic timber trade as well.
Another goal is transparency. So far this has been positive; the government understands that implementation is not a matter only for authorities, but for all stakeholders. Still, the time needed to obtain documentation from the national-level ICF and confidence in official information must be improved to allow effective participation.
More difficult, practical implementation of the VPA’s transparency requirements goes far beyond Tegucigalpa. It must be instituted in far-flung municipalities in forested areas. Problems arise, in part due to the multitude of actors involved. Also, a problem of trust exists in small municipalities, where the power of local mayors is greater, and where jobs may depend on a powerful employer; instructions from the capital seem distant. Even local CSOs charged with watching the forest sector have difficulty determining what is going on exactly, and who is responsible for what.
A great deal more information must be shared for local and indigenous communities to defend their interests, and for all stakeholders to obtain a picture clear enough to understand the effectiveness of initiatives.
Consultation of IPs remains a priority, but processes have stalled. Indigenous organisations are questioning a consulting process that treats them as a homogenous bloc, rather than as separate groups with varied cultures. IP communities wish to be differentiated and are exploring the creation of a protocol concerning FPIC that would allow them to exercise their rights more effectively.
Indeed, the Honduran VPA seems to have triggered a national groundswell. By reducing the power of bureaucracy, Hondurans working to implement the VPA are sending a strong signal to other sectors. In terms of transparency and methods of consultation, the forest sector is by far the most advanced industrial sector in Honduras. The VPA has opened a crucial, but difficult issue: indigenous and other communities are asking, why can’t the VPA’s transparency requirements and consultation processes be applied to other sectors with far worse records on such issues, such as the mining and water sectors? Could a national level law on consultation across the board be elaborated? So far, these excellent questions have not been answered.
Last updated in December 2018.
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