Being part of the Congo Basin rainforest, IFO's concession has an area of 1.2 million hectares, more than one quarter of the size of Switzerland. IFO employs almost 1,100 workers. Most of them live in the village of Ngombé, next to the IFO premises and sawmills on the banks of the wide river Sangha. IFO belongs to the Swiss based timber company Interholco and stands for Industrie Forestière de Ouesso, the main city nearby.
Logging according to standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) means this takes place with respect for the forest and the rights of the people living in the concession.
FSC certification also means that IFO has to look after protection of wildlife in its concession and establish a team of ecoguards who patrol the forest. In the Republic of Congo the forest law demands to contribute to ecoguard teams, however in practice only the certified companies actually do it, according to Couturier. The government recruits, employs and controls the ecoguards who are armed and pays the head of the team, but IFO and its partner in nature conservation, the NGO Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) pay the salaries of the ecoguards. IFO also pays the mission costs of jeeps and gasoline. In 2014 there were 15 ecoguards, but in 2015 the number doubled to 30 at the request of the Forest Stewardship Council. The ecoguards do more than patrolling the roads. Since hunting for subsistence by the forest communities is allowed six months per year in parts of the concession, the ecoguards inform the population about the law as well.
It is quite a challenge to combat poaching with 30 ecoguards in an area which has the size of more than a quarter of the country of Switzerland. But their presence is important, Richard Malonga, conservationist at WCS and Director of Parc National Nouabalé Ndoki, tells when I meet him in his office in the capital of Brazzaville: ‘The ecoguards of IFO contribute to release pressure on wildlife in neighbouring national park Odzala.’ Many animal species can be found in IFO’s forest concession. All species are represented in good numbers which have not decreased, according to Malonga. Besides forest elephants and gorillas, IFO’s forest concession is home to chimpanzees, other species of monkey such as the Black-and-white colobus, the De Brazza monkey and the Moustached guenon, leopards, buffalos, antilope like the Sitatunga or Marshbuck, the Blue duiker, the Peter’s duiker and many, many other species. During my visit I saw three of them: forest elephants (a mother and her baby), Blue duikers and what could have been a Moustached guenon.
Things can get pretty tough when combatting poachers in the concession. Guy Aimé Florent Malanda, head of the government ecoguards in IFO’s concession, tells me an impressive story. In the fall of 2015 his ecoguards were after a gang of poachers who used Kalashnikov machine guns to attack the ecoguards. The ecoguards responded by using their own Kalashnikovs. The ecoguards could catch one of the poachers who was wounded in the leg. They confiscated 36 kilograms of ivory.