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WWF

Guidance Note:
ALTERNATIVE NATURAL FIBERS
January 2015

A Vision for Alternative Natural Fibers


Alternative Natural Fibers (ANFs) are increasingly explored as a substitute for end uses traditionally
reserved for tree fibers. They include both purpose-grown and agricultural residue feedstocks such as
bamboo, kenaf, miscanthus, wheat straw, bagasse, and others. Interest in expanding the market for ANF
feedstocks should be driven by the expectation that responsible intensification of fiber production will
reduce pressure on natural forests and have global benefits for biodiversity, ecosystem services, socio-
economic development and climate stability. ANF feedstocks renew more rapidly that most tree fibers
and can theoretically use less land and sequester more carbon than fibers from forests or tree
plantations. ANFs cannot replace tree fibers for every end use, but they can compliment fiber sources
from responsibly managed forests and contribute to the sustainable landscape matrix.

Despite the potential benefits of investing in ANF feedstocks, there are concerns over broad-scale
adoption. If new projects are not preceded by evaluations of site and landscape-level impacts in addition
to traditional life-cycle assessments, there could be environmental and social risks. These risks could
include impacts from land use change, water use, agrochemical use, and co-product or waste production
that result in unwanted effects on or to protected areas, high conservation value (HCV) areas,
landscape-scale biodiversity, site-level biodiversity, rare, threatened, or endangered species, ecosystem
services, greenhouse gas emissions, the spread of unwanted species, air quality, soil health, water
quality or quantity, land and resource tenure, human rights, labor rights, worker health and safety, food
security, and water security.

As impacts from ANF production are highly dependent on feedstock species, location, and the prior land
use, conducting social and environmental assessments for each project is critical to minimize or mitigate
risks, and create ANF operations that provide positive benefits to people and the planet. The definition
of an ideal alternative fiber feedstock described herein serves as an aspirational benchmark to inform
decisions related to feedstock selection, site selection, and management and monitoring practices that
could have significant benefits for people and nature.

The six recommendations for an ideal alternative natural fiber below must be taken into account
holistically to ensure responsible management does not displace impacts from one concern area to
another. Each recommendation is further elaborated below to provide more detail on the most
important aspects to manage risk. The recommendations are not meant to be an exhaustive list. While
each criteria was developed to answer a question targeted at one aspect of responsible ANF production,
the interventions and recommendations to address potential risks are interdisciplinary and may be
covered by recommendations under other criteria of the definition.

An ideal alternative natural fiber is one that:


1. Is derived from a renewable feedstock that was selected to: improve production compared with
traditional sources (including the greenhouse gas footprint), minimize spread of unwanted
species, and provide for environmental and economic resilience under a changing climate and
other future conditions; and

2. Is produced on land selected to minimize negative impacts and enhance biodiversity wherever
possible by balancing biodiversity conservation between the site and the landscape (e.g. costs
from direct habitat loss vs. feedstock intensification), and on land selected after careful
consideration of implications for neighboring communities (including free, prior, and informed
consent and collaborative operation design and management with local people and/or
indigenous communities where appropriate); and
3. Is produced in a way that minimizes overall resource use and on-site and downstream negative
impacts to people and nature (e.g. agrochemicals, soil, water, air quality and waste); and
4. Is produced in a way that maintains or improves the function of ecosystem services and the
social and economic conditions in producing communities, while not adversely impacting food
or water security and affordability; and
5. Is legally sourced and produced in a safe and healthy way for workers and surrounding
communities that respects human and labor rights; and
6. Is produced under a precautionary approach that includes proper evaluation of and attention to
environmental and social risks, utilizes small-scale pilot studies to identify risks wherever
possible, selects sites and fiber species to minimize impacts, and continually monitors and
adapts management approaches as necessary.

What is an ideal ANF feedstock?

Criteria 1: Is derived from a renewable feedstock that was selected to: improve production compared
with traditional sources (including the greenhouse gas footprint), minimize spread of unwanted species,
and provide for environmental and economic resilience under a changing climate and other future
conditions

Careful selection of an ANF feedstock is important not only to ensure the long-term viability of the
operation and to minimize spread of unwanted or invasive species, but also because selection of a
feedstock relates to the associated management practices that balance fiber yield with potentially
harmful inputs. From a resource efficiency perspective, it is best to use residues as an ANF feedstock
provided that they originate from a well-managed source and the ecosystem service or social value of
other potential residue end-uses has been assessed. If a residue ANF feedstock is not appropriate, does
not come from a well-managed source, or could be utilized for other end uses with greater
environmental and social benefits, then a purpose-grown feedstock that requires land use solely for its
production should be assessed.
The feedstock itself needs to be resilient to environmental events (climate change, pests, disease,
and other disturbances) and economic volatility (diversification, fair market prices, processing capacity
and transport) by maximizing genetic and landscape diversity. Preventing unwanted spread or increased
access to natural habitats that may introduce species should always be a concern, even when an ANF
feedstock or associated host species are not considered invasive to a region. Given the changing climate
and other conditions, species that are not considered invasive or expansive now could become so in the
future.
Due to high growth rates, some ANF crops may be better at sequestering carbon in comparison with
existing fiber sources, but some agricultural residues should be considered carefully as they may have
higher emissions if their removal no longer provides needed soil benefits and necessitates use of
additional agrochemicals. Down the production line, the ANF pulping process may require increased
energy inputs compared to tree-based fibers and processing differences should be considered in
feedstock selection.

What is an ideal ANF production site?

Criteria 2: Is produced on land selected to minimize negative impacts and enhance biodiversity wherever
possible by balancing biodiversity conservation between the site and the landscape (e.g. costs from direct
habitat loss vs. feedstock intensification), and on land selected after careful consideration of implications
for neighboring communities (including free, prior, and informed consent and collaborative operation
design and management with local people and/or indigenous communities where appropriate)

Land use change is the factor with the potential to generate the most severe impacts for many ANF
feedstocks. Land use changes for ANF production need to be considered as part of regional land use
planning to maximize habitat connectivity and biodiversity, and minimize effects from intensification
and indirect land use change. Under no circumstances should ANF production sites overlap protected
areas or cause adjacent protected areas or populations of rare, threatened, or endangered species
significant harm under current and future climate conditions. While utilizing marginal or degraded lands
can be a successful strategy, it is still important to consider that these lands may have cultural or
resource value to local people, house biodiversity, or serve as ecological corridors. In order to conserve
landscape-scale biodiversity, effects should be evaluated at the project site as well as in the surrounding
region. Careful consideration of management practices and site planning can maximize biodiversity by
using buffer or riparian zones, maintaining and/or restoring natural habitat islands, and adopting
polyculture approaches that create a greater diversity of ecological niches.
High conservation value areas should be protected and preserved under a process of free, prior, and
informed consent (FPIC) with local people. FPIC should be employed for all conflicts over use, access,
and control of material (e.g. land, water, food, fuel) or immaterial (e.g. community identity, cultural
heritage) resources. Stakeholders in the FPIC process include local communities, landholders (including
landholders with customary rights), indigenous cultures or communities, subsistence farmers, and
marginalized groups (including women and migrant workers). Proactive land use planning in cooperation
with local people can not only provide a mechanism for communities to provide consent, but can offer
opportunities for ANF operations to restore portions of land and provide economic opportunities to
benefit communities.

What are ideal ANF production inputs and outputs?

Criteria 3: Is produced in a way that minimizes overall resource use and on-site and downstream
negative impacts to people and nature (e.g. agrochemicals, soil, water, air quality and waste)

With the high growth rates of many ANF feedstocks compared to tree fibers, it is possible for ANFs
to produce more fiber on less land by intensifying production. However, it is important to consider that
intensification could also result in increased concentrations of inputs such as agrochemicals, soil, or
water and outputs such as pollution and wastes in smaller areas. This increase could result in more
severe localized impacts if best management practices are not implemented to mitigate negative
outcomes.
There is particular concern for irrigated feedstocks or feedstocks that draw more water than the
previous land cover, and these feedstocks should only be grown on sites where the basin can support
the changes in the water regime. In addition to the timing and flow of water resources, there can be
changes in quality from poor agrochemical and soil management practices.
Air quality impacts are predominately linked to land clearing or on-site burning of wastes, and large-
scale land clearing by burning should be avoided.

How does ideal ANF production impact the needs of the community?

Criteria 4: Is produced in a way that maintains or improves the function of ecosystem services and the
social and economic conditions in producing communities, while not adversely impacting food or water
security and affordability

Impacts to ecosystem services from ANF production are dependent on feedstock selection and
implementation of best management practices. Some ANFs, such as bamboo, can help limit erosion and
nutrient depletion with benefits for soil health and water quality. Designing sites that are not a
monoculture can further improve soil nutrients or soil qualities and provide biodiversity benefits from
structural heterogeneity. Vegetation diversification can also increase the number of income
opportunities (such as collection of non-timber forest products) and the economic stability for local
communities, depending on the prior land use.
Stakeholder engagement, in particular with local people, will help support sound resource
management at the landscape level, and eventually strengthen local land and resource rights.
Development of ANF operations should always contribute to the communitys economic or social
development and provide direct benefits to local people.
If ANFs are produced more widely, there can be negative effects on food and water security. Food
insecurity (including changes to availability, access, diversity, and stability) can result if ANFs displace
land needed for food production or cause indirect land use changes and impact agricultural prices. ANFs
from agriculture residues could also impact food security without changes in land use. For example, if
wheat straw is diverted from feed to paper end uses there will be less feed available to produce meat
and the cost of protein can increase. The same cost changes can result if an ANF was previously used as
a fertilizer or mulch. Impacts to water security could pose equally challenging threats to local
communities and also contribute to food insecurity, particularly if irrigated ANFs compete with other
crops for water. Changes to water quantity (natural flows or availability) and quality (of water courses or
the water table) could impact security and cause conflicts.


How does ideal ANF production impact peoples rights?

Criteria 5: Is legally sourced and produced in a safe and healthy way for workers and surrounding
communities that respects human and labor rights

The legality of land acquisitions is a critical concern as well as the legality of labor and management
practices. Safe and healthy living conditions for workers and local communities are of paramount
concern because of potential impacts from the production practices described previously. For workers,
positive outcomes depend on successful implementation of training programs, personal protective
equipment use, housing and sanitation facilities, access to medical care, storage, use, and disposal of
agrochemicals, and processes to address grievances.
Given the inadequate international physical and livelihoods displacement polities and the seasonal
nature of labor needs for some ANFs, special concern should be given to the rights of migrant work
forces and local labor forces should be preferentially hired to avoid abuses stemming from overuse of
contractors that can encroach on HCV areas while idle. Depending on the region and operation size,
there can be additional labor concerns related to rights of children, women, forced labor, freedom of
association and equality or discrimination.

How does an ideal ANF operation manage risk?

Criteria 6: Is produced under a precautionary approach that includes proper evaluation of and attention
to environmental and social risks, utilizes small-scale pilot studies to identify risks wherever possible,

selects sites and fiber species to minimize impacts, and continually monitors and adapts management
approaches as necessary.

ANF projects must be developed with a precautionary approach that includes considerable research
of site and landscape-level impacts before adopting new feedstocks or familiar feedstocks in a new
region. Project sites should not be developed if evaluations indicate that there will be severe impacts
which the operation lacks the resources to mitigate or has not tested its ability to mitigate in a small-
scale pilot.
Ultimately, tradeoffs from social and environmental impacts of fiber production must be viewed at
the regional or even global level to determine if ANFs are reducing pressure on natural forests. Adaptive
project management that mitigates risks and maximizes planet positive outcomes is necessary to
establish ANFs as a responsibly produced component of the forest products industry.
Aspiring to meet the definition of an ideal ANF feedstock is a significant step toward responsible
production and perpetuation of natural resources in the forest product sector.