Health measures and local initiatives have been coordinated since the beginning of the crisis in order to protect employees and preserve the activities of the timber industry in the Congo Basin.
Paris, May 4th, 2020 – The forestry companies that are members of the ATIBT (Association Technique Internationale des Bois Tropicaux) have swung into action to counter, at their level, the development of Covid-19 in Africa. Their objectives: to protect their employees and the indigenous populations, but also to pursue the activity of a responsible sector essential to the economic balance of these countries, where wood is one of the most important contributors to the public treasury.
Thus, five companies based in Cameroon, Congo and Gabon are working to sustain the human, social and economic ecosystem of entire regions. The main objective is to maintain their FSC and PEFC-PAFC certified wood export activities.
Their prevention and care programmes are supported by the German Development Bank KFW through Fair&Precious, the brand promoting sustainable forest management.
In this context of international health crisis, Africa is resisting the spread of Covid-19 and is organising itself to limit its economic impact in countries where the timber industry employs thousands of workers who fear losing their livelihood. Thus, five companies specializing in the production and export of certified African wood took the initiative implement their own educational and health programmes, adapted to the lifestyles of local populations. At the heart of these initiatives, a call for awareness raising to inform, educate and protect workers and their families in the fight against the pandemic.
Focus on the measures taken by the association’s member companies:
The Interholco company (North Congo), employs 1000 employees:
- Implements civic and educational measures for employees and their families in the region in collaboration with government authorities.
- Equipped itself with medical and hygienic equipment: oxygen devices, medicines, flash thermometers, soap, masks, gloves and protective clothing.
- Encouraged local dressmakers to set up a cooperative in order to meet the local population’s need for masks with the export bans.
- Converted the state health centre in the village of Ngombé into a COVID-19 care unit, providing access to water, electricity and equipment in beds and mattresses – the company’s medical centre will continue to serve the population
- Communicates in local languages with the forest dwellers, who are also involved in the implementation of preventive measures thanks to the training and materials provided.
As Ulrich Grauert, Managing Director, points out: “Interholco not only invests but also calls on an additional solidarity fund. We have launched a Citizens’ Alliance to increase prevention and mitigation efforts in the northern part of the Republic of Congo. In a remote area, 1,000 km from the capital Brazzaville, our IFO’s medical facilities already serve a population of 16,000 people on a daily basis. We need a true “culture of alliance” to combat the spread of COVID-19. »
Rougier (Gabon) employs 1,100 people (forest and industry), including 600 employees and families on isolated forest sites:
- Implements preventive measures: taking temperatures of all staff when clocking on in offices, as well as on forestry and industrial sites (factories, logging sites, workshops, and checkpoints at gates).
- Gives information notes to all staff on the necessary barrier measures, and organises large awareness campaigns for all its staff, families and local populations (if required) on barrier gestures (hand washing, distancing, wearing masks, maintenance of alternative fabric masks).
- Limits the movement of its staff and families outside isolated sites, controls and limits access to forestry, industrial and office sites.
- Sets up a significant number of hand-washing points (hydroalcoholic gel and water + soap) in all workplaces, including in the forest.
- Carries out daily cleaning of offices and workstations
- Provides hygiene and protective equipment (in particular for the safe transport of personnel with compulsory wearing of masks, and maximum number of passengers per vehicle)
- Generalises the wearing of masks to all staff.
- Implements working distances between each employee.
- Enlarges and equips two dispensaries in isolated forest sites by implementing quarantine zones. Equips all its nurses with the necessary PPE.
- Maintains a permanent dialogue with the steering committee of the national strategy to fight against the pandemic through its company doctor – a member of this committee.
All the measures taken were very quickly formalised in a COVID-19 emergency plan at the beginning of April 2019.
The CIB-Olam Company (Northern Congo) employs 1,800 employees (permanent and temporary).
- Trains in preventive measures all of the company’s concessions
- Equips its industrial and medical facilities with personal protective equipment (masks, hand washing devices, disposable clothing, etc.).
- Systematically takes the temperature of each employee on arrival at the sites using a thermal camera.
- Constructed a quarantine zone for confirmed cases and reception for suspect cases adjacent to the CIB-OLAM hospitals.
- Prohibits to all employees moving in high-risk areas.
- Implemented an ambulance evacuation plan for confirmed cases in partnership with the town hall and the prefecture.
- Equips its clinic laboratory with an immunoanalysis system and COVID-19 detection kits to carry out large-scale tests on all its employees.
- Maintains permanent contact with governmental, local, departmental and national structures on the new guidelines.
The company has committed a budget of 300 million CFA francs. This also includes offering protective equipment to the regional authorities (masks, suits, hydro-alcoholic gels, infrared thermometers) with a total value of more than 100 million CFA francs to equip the medical infrastructure for the local population.
“We have been established for more than 51 years in Northern Congo and we are one with the communities around us. It was therefore clear that our response to the threat was not only for our employees and their families, but also for the entire population and our partners. We believe that this health crisis is further evidence of the link between environment and health and of the importance of investing in health as part of sustainable ecosystem management,” said Vincent Istace, CRS Director at CIB.
The company PALLISCO-CIFM (Mindourou and Douala, Cameroon), employs 500 people:
- Raises awareness among its staff, its subcontracting partners and the populations of the surrounding villages about preventive measures and social distancing through the organisation of meetings and poster campaigns involving local authorities.
- Imposes hand washing and the wearing of masks on the company’s enclosure and when travelling.
- Implemented measures to restrict access to the various workplaces and living bases.
- Provides fabric masks for employees and their families.
- Distributes hygiene products and equipment to staff and their families, and to subcontractors. Boxes of soap have also been distributed in the villages around the UFAS.
- Reinforces the medical equipment, stocks of disinfectants, medicines and protective clothing in the infirmary and health centre of MINDOUROU.
Precious Woods (Libreville and Lastoursville, Gabon), employs 880 people in Africa.
- Distributes hygiene equipment to staff and started production of fabric masks.
- Intensifies barrier gestures and adapts the functioning of its dispensary, medical centre for employees and their family members, 3’500 people in total and also open to the population.
- Carries out an awareness campaign on preventive measures and social distancing.
- Established additional hygienic facilities in these factories.
- Implemented restricted access and distance rules in all its factories and camps, and restricts staff movement.
- Carries out systematic temperature measurements before starting work with the help of thermo flashes.
- Carries out daily cleaning of offices and workstations.
- Imposes the compulsory wearing of masks when transporting personnel and the respect of a maximum number of people per lorry.
All these measures and initiatives aim to protect the populations and to allow the tropical wood industry certified in sustainable management to continue to provide a certain stability to the countries of the Congo Basin in a context of global health crisis.
In both Gabon and Cameroon, the companies feel strongly supported by the government services in their efforts to keep the industry active and to protect all employees and their families.
The International Tropical Timber Technical Association was founded in 1951 at the request of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Serving the “tropical timber” sector, from the forest to the final consumer, the association plays a leading role in the implementation of international projects dedicated to the sustainable and responsible management of tropical forests. It also positions itself as one of the best technical and scientific references for tropical wood resources. Between 2016 and 2019, the ATIBT saw an increase of nearly 50% in the number of its members, bringing its membership to more than 130. Alongside European players in the “African tropical timber” sector, the ATIBT brings together states (Republic of Congo, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic), other African (Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, DRC) and European professional associations, NGOs (such as WWF and the Prince Albert II Foundation) and major companies.
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Audrey Emanuel :
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« The Fair&Precious programme for the promotion of sustainable management in tropical forests is supported by the Forest Commission of Central Africa (COMIFAC) through the German Cooperation (KfW) and the French Development Agency (AFD) ».