A project in progress in the northern, upland region of the Republic of Congo has demonstrated the varied and significant benefits of sustainable forestry. Lucas van der Walt, of TFF-Member company Olam International, reported on work with Congolaise Industrielle des Bois (CIB), which manages four forest concessions totaling 1.4 million hectares (over 5,400 square miles), bordered by three national parks. Management plans began to be developed in the 1990s for these forests; this was rarely done in the region at the time and thus broke new ground in the country. Thirty years later, chain of custody is in place and the concessions comprise the first Congo Basin project in the United Nations’ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program.
As a result of sustainable forestry practices, the amount of road surface has been reduced by two thirds and maps have been developed to guide harvesting of various species while excluding areas with environmental and cultural sensitivity. Local communities have been engaged through processes designed to provide “free informed prior consent,” a community radio station to assure communication, and a community development fund overseen by a community board.
Another part of the success story began when CIB worked with the World Conservation Society (WCS) in the late 1990s, asking them to address wildlife management and poaching in parts of the concession. First, a group of chimpanzees that had never had human contact was found in the richest part of the forest. Having just begun on the road to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, CIB gave up logging rights to this area, and it was integrated into the national parks. Through continued partnership and inventories, eventually over 100,000 lowland gorillas were found in the Congo, many on CIB lands.
To make it economically feasible to protect these wildlife populations, CIB and partner organizations began to look at carbon credits (nicknamed “gorilla carbon”). They looked at REDD projects underway, with an eye toward those that were “win-able,” moving quickly, and requiring manageable investment.
The resulting project is the North Pikounda REDD+ Project, which takes advantage of several foundation pieces already in place:
- The Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROC) structure was sufficiently developed
- Concession rights had been clearly established for more than a decade
- The FSC had endorsed the processes in place for “free informed prior consent” and community engagement
- A mechanism existed for sharing revenue with stakeholders including the community
- The area was isolated with little danger of encroachment
- In-house modeling of forest dynamics related to management and harvest planning
- Over 40 years of data from harvesting and management plans in development
The project audit was completed in April 2013, with a few corrective action requests to strengthen community engagement and clarify harvest intensity rates, especially as they related to secondary species.
This case study in deriving value from carbon benefits led to several important conclusions, including that organizations well down the road of sustainable management are best positioned to pursue the opportunities, since they don’t need to invest in some foundational parts. At this point, carbon credits alone won’t offset the lost value of unharvested timber, but establishing this baseline points to additional avenues for exploration. For CIB, for example, considering deadwood may increase credits, as may components from the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance.
Continued partnerships—as, in this case, among CIB, Olam International, Carbon Conservation, and the government of the Republic of Congo—are needed to continue this exploration.