Interholco IFO book – Writer gets under skin of giant Congo FSC forest

In his latest book, Dutch specialist nature conservation and sustainability author and researcher Meindert Brouwer shows how effectively and efficiently managed forest and timber operations can balance the needs of business and the environment.

Brouwer dedicates a whole chapter of his new book, Central African Forests Forever, to the IFO forest concession and timber operations in the Republic of Congo, which, he starts by underlining, are colossal.

“IFO’s concession, forming part of the Congo Basin, covers 1.2 million ha, which is a quarter the size of the home  country of Interholco, IFO’s Swiss parent company ,” he says. “It employs nearly 1100 people and has 16,000 dependents in local communities.”

Brouwer details the felling operation, health and safety procedures in the forest and how trees are selected for natural regeneration. This leads on to use and active promotion of lesser known species, which the company wants to sell more of simultaneously to minimise risk of supply stress on more popular varieties, notably sapele, and to make simultaneously more economic and sustainable use of the same area of forest.

Antoine Couturier, IFO director of environmental and social company polices and certification, discusses the company’s efforts to protect wildlife by funding patrols of government-employed ‘ecoguards’. He also described the FSC process, which made the company’s the biggest single FSC-certified forest concession in Africa.

Social welfare and local engagement are also key, writes Brouwer, with 300 meetings between IFO representatives and local inhabitants annually, and the company investing €130,000 into social and development projects a year.

Ulrich Grauert, director of Interholco AG, tells Brouwer that the company’s parent, Austrian-based international timber giant Danzer, has been dedicated to minimising its environmental impact and supporting local communities since its start in the 1930s.

“Their opinion was that a timber company is responsible for its workers and ecology, that forest management has to be economically successful and ecologically and socially sustainable,” he said. “For us getting FSC certification was a natural thing to do and a good structure to ensure continuity of our company values in the long term.”

Brouwer himself concludes that FSC-certified forest management is a ‘blessing for the Congo Basin’.

“Its standards and principles contribute highly to safeguard forests and biodiversity,” he says. “Moreover it’s a key instrument to reduce poverty and enhance community development.”