Understanding IFLs Locally: A Solution for the Congo Basin

Understanding local conditions and concerns, and extensive consultation with stakeholders on the ground, is the key to successfully implementing motion 65 (2014).

Benoit Jobbé-Duval,
Economic North,
Director General, ATIBT

The effective implementation of motion 65 (2014) is critical to achieving the aims and objectives of the FSC Global Strategic Plan 2015-2020, including extending the forest areas that are FSC certified. However, the sustainable management of intact forest landscapes (IFLs) can only be achieved through consultation. Stakeholders on the ground must be fully behind the way the motion is implemented to ensure that it does not become counter-productive to the long-term development of FSC certification.

Taking Care of Central Africa’s Forests

The sustainable management of tropical forests by FSC-certified companies in the Congo Basin acts as a protective measure against the conversion of forests into agricultural land, and as a bulwark against deforestation. This can only continue if the importance of forests, and the products that derive from them, are properly appreciated. Forest conservation will only be effective and sustainable if FSC certificate holders support employment, combat poaching, and build solid relationships with local communities.

Any misstep in implementing motion 65 (2014) could be counter-productive, and the few FSC-certified companies in Central Africa might be obliged to leave the system. Therefore, we need to implement motion 65 (2014) realistically, to maintain and strengthen the very fragile balance achieved to date, and to make further progress with FSC certification.

Support and Concerns

Representatives of the economic chamber from the Congo Basin participated in the 7th FSC General Assembly in 2014 where motion 65 was passed. The economic chamber cautiously approved the motion, but the full extent of its consequences was not clearly known by everyone at the time.

Since then, the governments of the Republic of Congo and Gabon, and the Central African Forests Commission, have all expressed concern with motion 65 (2014) due to the impact it would have on the growing wood sector in the region, and the lack of visibility around the implementation of the motion. Crucially, as there are no African members on the current FSC international Board of Directors, there are concerns that Congo Basin forests and their regional realities are not being represented during FSC decision-making processes.

The forests of the Congo Basin belong principally to the governments concerned, and their representatives do not want any reduction in forest land areas because of existing programmes of work, important interactions with the local populations, and anticipated investment. After years of negotiations with local communities and companies a balance has been established under existing FSC guidelines. Therefore, motion 65 (2014) must be implemented with caution if we want to see this worthy model endure.

Our Work on the Ground

FSC-certified companies already conserve 10 per cent of their forest area, but, unfortunately, they are grouped by the media with non-certified companies who do not manage their forests responsibly or sustainably. None of the shocking images of total deforestation lands the public are exposed to come from the logging sector.

It is obvious, as the most recent IFL meeting in Brazzaville demonstrated, that all FSC chambers share the same objective – to conserve tropical forests. No alternative mechanism to sustainable development works well enough to achieve this objective, not the carbon market, nor ecotourism, nor non-timber forest products.

On the other hand, due to the difficulties and complexities in the region, many FSC members and stakeholders are not well informed about the way we work on the ground regarding social dialogue, wildlife protection, conservation, and reducing the impact of logging. For example, FSC-certified companies in the Congo Basin only harvest one or two trees per hectare every 25 years – our forest management plans are specific to our local context and go through the same rigorous processes as in other parts of the world.

Of course, there is still room for progress, and we are always working to improve. We engage in partnerships with a diverse range of NGOs and scientific organizations to gain a better understanding of all the specific characteristics of tropical forests.

We encourage FSC members and stakeholders to visit FSC-certified operations in the region. You will see that we share many of the same concerns, and that we are ready to engage in concerted dialogue to find solutions. We look forward to finding such a solution for motion 65 (2014) implementation at this year’s general assembly.

The views expressed in the opinion pieces released both prior to and at the FSC General Assembly are the personal opinion of the author, and do not represent the views of FSC. Different members were approached to provide two sides of each argument, but some members exercised their right to decline.