SUCCESS STORY: Mexican community foresters sell smart wood to IKEA

Posted: 3 February 2004

Author: Katiana Murillo

The Mexican state of Durango, with its rugged landscape and imposing Sierra Madre mountain range, first gained international fame via Hollywood westerns. Today fans of fine furnishings can bring a little piece of Durango into their living rooms, thanks to an enterprising pueblo, an international conservation group, and two forward-thinking furniture companies.

In Mexico, unlike most other nations, farmers and indigenous communities collectively own some 80 percent of the forests, called ejidos. With their thick forests of pine and oak, Durango's ejidos produce more lumber than any other Mexican state. To help ensure that these forests are not depleted but still provide livelihoods to thousands of residents who depend on them, a number of communities are sustainably managing their ejidos and seeking official recognition for their efforts from timber certification programs.

Certified wood

IKEA sofa made from Smartwood.

The Pueblo Nuevo ejido is certified by the Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood Sustainable Forestry Division. In December 2003, the Pueblo Nuevo broke into the international market with its sustainably harvested and SmartWood-certified lumber with the delivery of its first container of sofa parts to SitWell, a furniture manufacturer in the state of Yucatán. SitWell produces sofas for the Swedish company IKEA, a leading furniture retailer with stores in 33 countries.

The landmark sale was the brainchild of Aarón Parra, secretary of the Pueblo Nuevo ejido's board of directors, and his brother Magdiel, a forester. Aarón Parra explains that for years the ejido processed only tree trunks, which are cut into boards and sold locally and nationally. It occurred to the Parra brothers that there was an opportunity to add value to Pueblo Nuevo's logging operations by selling smaller pieces of harvested trees, which usually are left behind in the forest.

"We thought we had to do something because we were giving the wood to big industries, and they were the only ones benefiting from our SmartWood certification, since they exported," explains Magdiel Parra.

They contacted the Rainforest Alliance (publishers of Eco-Exchange), which helped ejido members obtain training in quality control, forest management, and marketing techniques. The technical assistance was supported by the US Agency for International Development, the US Forest Service's International Program, the Mexican company Forestal Alfa, Mexico's National Forestry Commission, and the Durango state government, among others.

Economic benefits

After some trial and error, the Pueblo Nuevo ejido members were able to produce sofa parts that met IKEA's quality and ecological standards. According to Juan de Dios Bermúdez, coordinator of the Rainforest Alliance's Forest Production and Marketing Program in Durango, guaranteeing direct access to international markets, without intermediaries, can create significant economic benefits for community forest owners. The 1,500 members of the Pueblo Nuevo ejido have seen an increase in profits, thanks to the IKEA contract.

More than 200,000 acres (nearly 85,000 hectares) of Pueblo Nuevo's forests have been certified by the Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood program, which in turn is accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council. Ejido board of directors president Adrián Betancourt emphasizes that the community's greatest asset is that it has a sufficient volume and quality of certified wood.

Pueblo Nuevo plans to ship one container of sofa parts to SitWell every month - approximately 133,000 pieces, or 54.46 cubic meters of wood.

SitWell produces furniture exclusively for IKEA, weekly exporting 1,300 sofas, worth a total of US$20,000. José Abraham Farra, SitWell's managing director, affirms, "The components produced by the ejido meet IKEA's strict quality standards."

Reforestation project

For Aarón Parra, this project will not only increase the ejido's income, but also will allow members to dedicate more money to sound forestry management. Part of the profits will be invested in reforestation, he explains, adding: "We've been ungrateful to the forest and we want to remunerate it for some of what it is giving us."

The agreement between IKEA and Pueblo Nuevo holds promise for other certified community-owned forests in Mexico, according to Abraham Guillén, head of market development for the Rainforest Alliance's Sustainable Forestry Division. He points out that the fact that the Pueblo Nuevo community "caught IKEA's attention to begin a mutually beneficial commercial relationship is proof that community forestry operations in Mexico can be competitive globally, as long as the demand for certified products matches their sustainable supply capacities and available resources."

He adds that for IKEA and the customers who buy the new sofas, the SmartWood seal ensures that the wood used in the furniture was harvested in a way that is ecologically and silviculturally sound and benefits the members of the Pueblo Nuevo ejido.

Katiana Murillo is an Editor with Eco-Exchange, published by the Rainforest Alliance (see links below).

Related links: