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Timber Operations in Congo Basin Surpass 5 Million Hectares
Timber Operations in Congo Basin Surpass 5 Million Hectares
News Mar 10, 2011

As of January 2019, TFT has become Earthworm Foundation

TFT announced today that an additional 571,000 hectares of rainforest concessions managed by Congolaise Industrielle des Bois (CIB), one of Africa’s largest timber companies, have been newly-certified under environmental and humanitarian good-stewardship rules.

The announcement marks a landmark in TFT’s efforts to help industry protect the fragile environment of the world’s second largest tropical forest, as well as the lives and livelihoods of local and indigenous communities, including semi-nomadic Pygmy people living within CIB’s forest area. With the certification of the Loundoungou and Toukoulaka concessions, CIB’s management of all its forest tracts in the Republic of Congo has been recognized by the independent Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

But lack of demand for sustainably-produced-and consequently higher-priced-wood and wood products could undercut industry’s striking response to pressure from advocates and consumers in Europe and the United States, according to the Geneva-based charity’s executive director, Scott Poynton.

“Whilst CIB and other Congo Basin forest companies have made dramatic progress in adopting sustainable timber practices, those advocating for protecting the forests are now missing in action, ” Poynton said. “The customers aren’t coming and the NGOs aren’t pushing the market to buy this certified wood. And without economic returns, the companies can’t maintain these practices.”

Poynton and TFT’s industry partners warn that companies trying to do the right thing are under growing competitive pressure, as high-volume buyers of wood continue to purchase from companies that are flouting sustainable practices, a claim supported by a recent study by the World Wildlife Fund. The authors note that the trend continues despite the recent passage of the EU Illegal Timber Regulation, which requires all retailers to be able to trace the wood in their products back to a legal source.

“Today’s announcement is of great significance, but unfortunately the much-needed level playing field is still missing. This isn’t good for the forest, and isn’t good for people, biodiversity or climate change,” said CIB‘s Robert Hunink. “Nonetheless, management and staff of CIB are committed to the FSC process. It is hoped that buyers will start rewarding those companies that have answered the call to certify their timber operations; in addition, the company intends to look at the carbon opportunities.”

Search for a solution

The Congo Basin is a 700,000-square-mile tropical forest that extends across six countries. In it live 400 mammal species, including gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos, as well as 1,300 types of birds, 400 reptile species and more than 20,000 different species of plant. The region loses about four million hectares of tropical rainforest each year due to illegal logging, mining, agricultural conversion and mismanagement.

The collaboration between TFT and CIB began in 2004, when the company asked the charity to assess its operations and recommend ways it might obtain certification through the independent Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). “CIB made a decision to work with TFT, and that in turn put pressure on other Congo Basin timber interests to obtain for their wood the same seal of sustainability,” Poynton said. “The FSC has now certified 1.3 million hectares of land in CIB’s concessions, and 4 million hectares more in other companies’ operations.”

Among the most innovative steps taken by CIB with TFT’s assistance has been to build a relationship with the semi-nomadic indigenous Pygmy communities living in the Congo rainforest. The relationship has enabled the forest people to take part in decisions about their lands and resources as they work closely with timber companies.

Pygmy communities use radio, GPS to exert control

Historically, the indigenous forest people of the Congo Basin have lacked legal status and official recognition of their rights to forest land and resources. Outsiders who exploited their timber and animals excluded them from the management of their forests.

TFT and CIB established the first indigenous Pygmy language community radio station in the Congo Basin. Biso na Biso (“Between Us,” in the local language) went on air in 2007 and enables the semi-nomadic Pygmy communities to share news across the vast areas they inhabit and to hear information about their rights under the FSC system.

“Companies that wanted to engage in sustainable logging operations lacked knowledge of how to engage in a fair way with a largely non-literate, semi-nomadic people,” Poynton said. “We brought in scholars with skills, knowledge and relationships with the Pygmy communities to help build these relationships.”

Another of the innovative techniques developed in the partnership between TFT and CIB is participatory mapping. Using handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) devices designed for non-literate people, the Pygmies living within CIB’s forest concessions walk through the forests they use, marking out areas or even particular trees that are important to protect. These might be medicinal or food plants, or areas that are sacred to the Pygmies. They are immediately marked on GPS maps, giving the company information it needs to avoid disrupting the Pygmies’ way of life.

“The collaboration shows how consumer preference for sustainably produced products can be translated into changes on the ground in the world’s tropical forests,” Poynton said. “This requires a delicate balance between economic use of the resources along with respect for the trees, the land and its people. But to continue to protect these forests we need buyers in Europe, China and the U.S. to step up and to demand FSC-certified Congo basin wood in their products.”

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