In a recent posting, we reported on the sale of FSC’s flagship certified logging company in Africa, Congolaise Industrielle des Bois (CIB), to the Singapore-based Olam Group, which describes itself as a “global leader in agricultural products and food ingredients”. Amongst Olam’s activities elsewhere in the world is production and processing of palm oil, so it came as little surprise to some when the company recently indicated, only five months after acquiring CIB’s massive forest assets in northern Congo, that it was interesting in ‘diversifying’ CIB’s production to include various crops such as palm oil, cacao and soya.
The announcement was reported on Congolese TV where CIB’s Director General Christian Schwarz is shown meeting Congo’s President Sassou-Nguesso, and explaining the company’s plans. An English translation transcript of part of Schwarz’s interview is available below, along with the original in French.
Olam/CIB has not yet stated whether or not it intends to fell forests for agriculture in its existing forest management units (UFAs), two of which are currently FSC certified. However, this could be a preferred option, especially in the older of its areas which, as we previously reported, are now no longer economically viable, having been creamed of their most valuable timbers. CIB’s 267,000 hectare Kabo concession, which was FSC certified in 2006, to loud applause from some quarters such as The Forest Trust (TFT), was closed in 2009 and its FSC certificate appears to have lapsed. The FSC certification reports from SGS reveal that CIB’s holdings consist almost entirely of ‘High Conservation Value Forest’.
Olam/CIB would have a ready workforce for developments such as palm oil plantations amongst the many thousands of Congolese people who have been drawn to its operations over the years, perhaps especially the 700 or so whose FSC-certified ‘socially beneficial’ employment with the company came to an abrupt end when the Kabo operations closed.
Interest in growing oil palm in this part of the Congo Basin has been increasing. In his announcement, Christian Schwarz refers to the nearby operations of Sanghapalm, a company whose 40,000 hectares were recently acquired from the Congolese state by Italian ‘green energy’ group Fri-el, for rehabilitation and expansion of the palm oil estates for production of biofuels.
Should CIB’s former or current FSC certified forests be felled for palm oil or other agricultural products, it will seriously undermine the arguments of agencies such as the World Bank, TFT, WWF and others that continue to believe, against all the evidence, that FSC certification of logging in the tropics represents ‘sustainable forestry’, that ‘sustainable forestry’ is synonymous with forest conservation, and that this form of ‘forest management’ is beneficial for the environment, and helps to prevent climate change. It would show that FSC certification has proved utterly worthless as a guarantee that logging operations are any more ‘sustainable’ than any other forestry operations in Africa, or elsewhere in the tropics, where the forest is first stripped of its best timbers, then cleared for agriculture or some other use.
Whilst the FSC Secretariat will no doubt continue to struggle vainly with such issues in the face of the overwhelming vested interests of its accredited certifiers, it could at least look closely at its rules concerning transfer of ownership of certified companies, to see whether they have been breached by the recent sale of CIB from a parent company interested in timber to one that produces tropical agricultural commodities.
CHRISTIAN SCHWARZ, Director General of CIB
“We know that both in the Sangha and the Likouala the climate is right, and in the past cacao was abundant. Today it’s starting up again and we’d like to position ourselves there and as we said also, oil palm… there’s the Sanghapalm not far away and if we can support Mr. President in agricultural development and if as well the government assists companies that want to do it, we’re ready. We’re part of the Olam group since 7 January and our intention as a group is to try to development activities like coffee, cacao, rice, soya, oil palm, cashew nuts, and we would like for Mr. President to give us the opportunity to branch out into sectors other than wood.”
Transcript in original French:
“Nous savons qu’aussi bien dans la Sangha que dans la Likouala il y a un climat qui est propice et le cacao déjà par le passé était en abondance. Aujourd’hui ça commence à redémarrer et nous souhaitons nous positionner là-dessus, et comme […] dit également l’huile de palme il y a la Sanghapalm qui est pas loin, et si on peut accompagner Monsieur le Président dans le développement agricole et qu’également le gouvernement accompagne les sociétés qui souhaitent le faire, on est prêt. Nous faisons partie du groupe Olam depuis le 7 janvier et notre intention au niveau du groupe c’est d’essayer de développer les activités notamment le café, le cacao, le riz, le soja, l’huile de palme, la noix de cajou, et nous souhaitons avec M. le Président avoir la possibilité de faire les activités autre que le bois.”