In the Congo, people-centric businesses drive change
The forests of the Congo Basin constitute the second largest area of dense tropical forests in the world, after the Amazon. This makes it one of the world’s most precious resources in these times of reckless exploitation and the impending doom that climate change is bringing upon us.
In our endeavor to help preserve and protect the world’s forests and its resources, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) advocates a model of forestry that is not just economically viable, but also environmentally sound and socially beneficial.
In the Republic of Congo, FSC certifies 2.5 million hectares of forests, striving every day towards taking head-on the many challenges that face the world’s forests, even as our certificate holders listen to diverse voices in their areas of operation.
In the Congolese village of Pokola there are 6000 persons living in the forests around where FSC-certified company CIB-OLAM operates.
Under FSC’s Principles and Criteria #4 which states that “The Organization shall contribute to maintaining or enhancing the social and economic wellbeing of local communities,” the company maintains around 1000 km of roads and has a hospital that it operates for local communities and Indigenous Peoples.
These roads have enabled the communities to connect with local markets to sell fish they catch from nearby water bodies and plants (like Saka Saka and Yuca) that they collect from the forests.
The roads have also greatly eased their access to hospitals and medical care.
Bantu women, Merline (L) and Paola (R), each have three children and live in the village of Pokola. They are the beneficiaries of modern healthcare facilities in a country where access is limited. Having experienced birthing at home and in the hospital, they say they prefer the hospital.
“Delivering a baby at home is lonely and risky,” says 25-year-old Paola, “I went into labour when nobody was home. I had to wait for my mother to return to help me and luckily she reached me in time.”
It’s also safer and better for the health of the child to be born in the hospital, according to Merline.
“In the hospital, doctors ensure that newborns get their vaccinations immediately after birth. For us mothers, there is less chance of infection and more support — If the child is in a difficult position it is good to have a doctor and a midwife around.”
The presence of sustainably-managed forest concessions have also brought wider access to education for children of communities in the Congo.
While some build schools for the communities, others play a crucial part in aiding the setup of schools in their areas of operation. Many such schools are built near or within the Baka settlement or village.
For example, an FSC-certified forest management company helped create awareness for a school by engaging Indigenous staff to inform the residents of Mokobo about the project and to answer any query they may have.
While the school was built by the government of the Republic of Congo in collaboration with USDA, CIB-OLAM performed a reconnaissance of the location and was involved in the actual ground breaking and flattening, making the land suitable for building the school.
In the picture above is the dining hall of the school in Mokobo. After classes end for the day, children are provided with lunch, funded by the UN’s World Food Programme.
Traditionally hunter gatherers, the Baka emphasize the importance of preserving their culture and traditions. Their way of life calls for a more practical education rooted in learning the life skills necessary to survive and thrive in the forests they inhabit.
Baka boys learn activities like fishing and hunting, using tools made from materials they collect in the forests; and girls take up activities like fish-bailing in streams. Girls are also responsible for caring for the young when their mothers are away collecting food.
Building schools close to Baka communities, and involving them in the process of introducing new education systems alongside their traditional education, is an important step in facilitating inclusion.
An important crux of FSC’s mission to promote environmentally sound, socially beneficial and economically viable solutions for the sustainable management of forests is engagement — and this is reflected in the constant dialogue and active interplay that FSC-certified companies undertake.
This could be by collaborating with governments for economic value, by certifying concessions for ecosystems services or by engaging with local and Indigenous communities, to conduct their businesses in tandem with the beliefs and systems of its original inhabitants.
A business is nothing without its people. This is especially true in forest management because businesses may have the know-how to make money, but traditional peoples are a treasure-trove of knowledge about their forests, which can in turn help sustain a business.