The Congo Basin in Central Africa is home to millions of different endemic species. It's the world’s second largest rainforest after the Amazon, with more than 220 million hectares of tropical rainforest.
The Congo Basic is still recognized as an important hotspot for biodiversity, and widely considered as the planet’s second lung. But its forests, like many others, face increasingly important threats: the conversion of forests to industrial agriculture, pressure on wood resources to meet energy needs, unsustainable infrastructure development, rapid population growth, widespread poverty, as well as illegal, unsustainable logging.
Sustainable forest management is our best shot at preventing extinction of local wildlife.
Consumers know very little about the sustainable solutions that exist for tropical wood management and instead think any form of logging is detrimental to the wellbeing of the planet.
Megabiodiversity refers to the number and variety of animal species native to an area. The Congo Basin, specifically, is home to 11,000 species of tropical plants, over 1200 species of birds, 450 mammal species, 700 species of fish, and about 280 reptile species.
The endangered Western lowland gorilla, for instance, is a good example of a species native to the Congo Basin and also a large seed-dispersing mammal, as well as a pollinator. Pollinator animals play a key role in the rainforest – they move plant pollen and seeds, bringing about plant fertilisation and thus insuring the longevity of the forest.
Gorillas specifically need the hot, moist, stable environment of the rainforest to thrive, but its species is seriously threatened. In fact, large apes are often the victims of illegal commercial hunting, which results in their slaughter and shipping around the world as bushmeat and hunting trophies.
But why is forest management so important for the protection of local wildlife?
Some parks are run by foundations, such as African Parks, with considerable resources. We want to emphasize here the importance of strengthening the synergistic action between national parks and certified forest companies, because they share the same fauna and share the same objective: to maintain wildlife and the forest.
Indeed, animals are very well protected in managed and certified forests (i.e. FSC or PEFC). In the Republic of the Congo, the FSC-certified IFO concession harbours 70,000 gorillas and 4,000 elephants, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
These figures far outweigh those of the neighbouring Odzala-Kokoua National Park, a reserve of similar size.
Each year, IFO takes a rigorously selective approach to harvesting tropical trees in a well-defined area, based on a forest management plan, before returning 30 years later. IFO has put 27 percent of the forest it manages under permanent conservation and protection; in the remaining 73 percent, from which trees are selected, the limited, temporary impact of harvesting continues to allow forest regeneration.
Thus, most of the concession serves as a breeding ground and food reserve for endangered species.
Fair&Precious is an umbrella brand for a communication campaign created at the initiative of the ATIBT with support of France and Germany development agencies. It aims to promote forest certification in tropical regions.
By highlighting the virtues of FSC and PEFC-PAFC certifications, ATIBT aims to educate and inform both local communities and key market players.
It is indeed fundamental that everyone is aware of the virtues of these certifications, particularly in terms of regulating poaching and harvesting trees.
Today, if approximately five million hectares of forests are certified as sustainable management in the Congo Basin, we are convinced that this area can be significantly increased thanks to the Fair&Precious communication campaign and the enhancement of FSC and PAFC-PEFC certifications.
Benoit Jobbé Duval is Executive Director of ATIBT (International Tropical Timber Technical Association), founded in 1951 at the request of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Image: Congo Basin. Volcanoes Safaris.