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In the town of Minamiaizu in southwestern Fukushima Prefecture, local efforts are gathering steam to promote its rich forestry resources to the world by obtaining global certification for quality woodlands.

To that end, the nonprofit organization Minamiaizu Mori Network is playing a key role in coordinating efforts by the local forestry and construction industries. By winning brand recognition of the town’s forests, locals are hoping to revitalize their economy and communities.

As the sole entity in the prefecture receiving subsidies from the Forestry Agency, the NPO is striving to have the town’s forests, which cover 80,000 hectares — or 90 percent of the town’s area — certified by the Sustainable Green Ecosystem Council (SGEC), a national industry body that certifies forests that are adequately managed in terms of environmental protection and biodiversity.

SGEC certification is compatible with international standards for forestry management.

As of January, 1.25 million hectares of forests had been certified nationwide, and Fukushima Prefecture has 3,300 hectares owned by Mitsui & Co., Nippon Paper Industries Co. and other firms.

The NPO’s leading members — Shin Haganuma, 59, Takehiro Sekine, 42 and Shun Matsuzawa, 27 — are committed to adding more value to the town’s rich forestry resources and promoting local revitalization. “Forests in Minamiaizu have big potential,” Haganuma said. “With the help of the certification system, we’d like to make our town a major forestry industry center that we can show to the world with pride.”

The NPO aims to obtain SGEC certification for at least 500 hectares of the town’s forests in fiscal 2016. That would open the door to wider business opportunities given Minamiaizu is already known for its sake breweries and rice farming using quality water from its forests.

This fiscal year, the NPO has received ¥5 million in central government subsidies and is narrowing down candidate forests by conducting research on their ecosystems and interviewing landowners. It will then have discussions with locals and apply to the SGEC.

According to the SGEC, international lumber trade in recent years increasingly requires certification that the lumber comes from properly managed forests. Once certified, increased global competitiveness and higher evaluations would help producers expand sales channels.

The NPO also aims to obtain SGEC certification for wood products that are made with outstanding skills and shipped under strict quality controls.

That would boost efforts to establish the “Minamiaizu brand” of wood products, including furniture, tableware and toys as well as construction materials. A uniform label bearing the town’s brand design would convince consumers of the products’ high quality.

The NPO’s ultimate goal is to advertise the Minamiaizu brand during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. When the London Games were held in 2012, various certified wood materials were used to build facilities. As the Tokyo Games will likely continue this trend, the NPO will brush up the local brand and gear up for what it sees as a golden opportunity.

This section, appearing on the third Tuesday this month due to Monday’s press holiday, focuses on topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture. The original article was published Aug. 4.

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