The Republic of Congo lies along the equator, stretching from the Atlantic coastline into central Africa. Two and a half million people inhabit 34 million hectares of land. The climate is tropical with an annual rainfall of about 1,800 mm and a relatively dry and cool season from May to September. Rainfall occurs from October to May although there is often a short dry period in January. According to the FAO Forest Resources Assessment 1990, forest cover of the Congo is 58.2% (19.8 million ha). More than 98% of this is closed forest.
Figure 3-1: Location of the case study
The main economic centre and the only seaport of the country is Pointe Noire. The capital Brazzaville is located about 500 km east of Pointe Noire on the Congo River. Most of the population is found in the south, along the railway line from Brazzaville to Pointe Noire.
The production facilities of the forest industry enterprise SOCOBOIS (Société Congolaise des Bois) are located in Dolisie in the south of the Republic of Congo, about 400 kilometres west of Brazzaville (Figure 3-1). Dolisie is the third largest town of the Congo and capital of the district Niari. In Dolisie, the railway line Brazzaville-Pointe Noire (Atlantic ocean) meets the national road Gabon-Angola. Dolisie was the centre of commercial wood business from 1930 to the 1970s. Due to the decline of forest resources in the vicinity of the city, most industry enterprises have reduced their activities or moved to new locations. Presently SOCOBOIS is the most important industrial enterprise of the district. It employs a total of about 700 workers.
The forest industry enterprise SOCOBOIS (Société Congolaise des Bois) was established in 1964 by a German wood processing company. The main products of SOCOBOIS are peeled and sliced veneer, sawn timber, and plywood. Veneer and sawn timber are produced mainly for European export markets. The total annual roundwood intake is approximately 70,000 m3, of which an average of 38,000 m3 is harvested in the concession of the enterprise. The remaining volume is purchased from small forest enterprises.
The production facilities of the enterprise consist of two peeling lines (of which one was replaced in 1995), two slicers, one bandmill, two continuous veneer dryers and various veneer sorting and jointing lines. The factory is directly connected to the railway system.
Production concentrates on peeled veneer for export. Orders are mainly for sized Okoumé veneer. The annual production of SOCOBOIS in export quality is estimated at 2,300 m3 peeled veneer, 600,000 m2 sliced veneer, and 350 m3 sawn timber. Sawn timber and plywood are also produced for the local market. Processing residues are either used in the steam plant or sold to local charcoal producers in the surrounding area.
The most important species for veneer production is Okoumé (Aucoumea klaineana), which is a relatively lightweight, homogenous species highly suitable for peeling. Another species used for veneer production is Limba (Terminalia superba).
The forest concession of SOCOBOIS is located in the Chaillu massif in the district of Lekoumou/Bambama at the southern border of Gabon (Figure 3-1). The forests are on both sides of the river Ogoué, which is the largest stream in Gabon. The transport distance between the concession area and the factory in Dolisie is approximately 500 km.
The mountains of the Chaillu massif reach elevations of 400-900 m. In the concession the altitude is estimated at 400 m. Because of their limited fertility, soils in the Chaillu mountains are less suitable for permanent agriculture and the land still has a relatively high degree of forest cover.
The current concession consists of 150,000 ha of broad-leaved forest, of which 13,163 ha (9%) grow on permanent or temporary swamps. The concession area is part of the district of Bambama at the southern border of Gabon where approximately 8,000 people live. The majority of the inhabitants depend on non-wood forest products such as game, fish, and edible plants. Small scale trade and new settlements are occurring along the forest roads.
Mainly, because of a lack of appropriate experience, only 14% of the employees of the SOCOBOIS company are residents of the concession area. Other areas of Congo provide the remainder of the workers. Some nearby villages have become suppliers of manioc and other foodstuffs for the company's temporary basecamp. The basecamp consists of a dormitory for the forest workers, a sickroom, a well for drinking water, a workshop, a carpenter shop, a small sawmill, and office buildings.
No previous commercial harves-ting has been done in the concession. The most important species for harvesting is Okoumé. Other potentially commercial species include (trade names): Movingui, Olon, Ayele, Oboto, Moabi, Dibetou, Niove, Padouk, and Douka. The commercial value of a species in this concession is determined by its suitability for veneer or sawn timber production. The quantity of the species mentioned above is too small for a continuous supply to the mill and the quality of the stems is not always suitable.
The reconnaissance report by the Forestry Administration authorises SOCOBOIS to utilise an area of approximately 15,000 ha annually for a period of ten years. This allows the company to harvest up to 45,000 m3 per year. The current concession will end in 1997.