Expert group leads to better understanding of open Marantaceae Forests in the North of Congo

12.05.2017. It is important to distinguish open Marantaceae forests, known best for the habitat they provide to elephants and gorillas, from other forest types.


These forests occupy large tracts of the concession that Interholco manages in the North of Congo and are characterised by an open canopy with widely spaced trees and a dense herbaceous understory of Marantaceae and Zingiberaceae. Growing on deep dry soil, this vegetation is sensitive to fire. Marantaceae forests are the result of past disturbances, both natural and human-induced with subsequent forest degradation. This was clearly established by archaeo-pedological and C14 studies which found charcoal and human artefacts in the soil. Research further indicated that tree harvesting in open Marantaceae vegetation types results in a recovery of forest dynamics on skid trails, as such openings in the herbaceous understory allow seedlings to germinate, existing seedlings to grow and wood species to be regenerated. It is therefore concluded that tree harvesting in Marantaceae forests stimulates natural regeneration, which is inhibited in ‘intact’ forests.

These are just some of the most important findings, which about 20 scientists, ecologists and experts from local and international research institutes and NGOs have contributed to the Working Group on Forest Fires in Open Marantaceae Forests. Interholco had launched the initiative early in 2016, to see how best to address the impact of extreme drought and fire on open canopy Marantaceae forests in their concession.

Scientists, ecologists and experts on tropical forests, on forest fire and satellite monitoring visited the sites, exchanged observations and developed the findings. Further to the ecological research, new light was shed on the notion that wide-spread logging trails and roads should be responsible for human-induced fires. According to experts in the Working Groups, human density (the presence and importance of human settlements) is a key factor in determining the risk of fire as well as the extent of forest likely to be affected. This is a crucial aspect, as indigenous peoples and local communities have traditionally inhabited and interacted with forest ecosystems hundreds – possibly thousands - of years. The interaction of local people with forests is guaranteed to date through their right to hunting and gathering activities.

As 2016 drew to a close, three main recommendations were presented by the Working Group on Forest Fires in Open Marantaceae Forests:

  1. Awareness-raising actions among the villages/communities, alerting them to the danger of spreading forest fires, especially in advance of particularly dry seasons.
  2. Monitoring of fire impact on tree mortality and future regrowth.
  3. Evaluating the possibility of planting on skid-trails or liberating existing regeneration.

Interholco has integrated awareness-raising actions in the work that the social team is carrying out together with the local communities and indigenous peoples, and will continue to liaise with research institutes and centres or other interested actors regarding suitable projects.

Interholco wishes to express wholehearted thanks, for the time and resources that their respective staff have devoted to the Working Group, to CIRAD (the French agricultural research and international cooperation organization working for the sustainable development of tropical and Mediterranean regions), CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research), EU JRC (the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre), FRMi (Forêt Ressources Management ingeniérie), FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council), the Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech (University of Liège), the University of Maryland (UMD GLAD initiative), WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), WRI (The World Resources Institute) and WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature).

For more information:

Gillet J.-F., 2013. Les forêts à Marantaceae au sein de la mosaïque forestière du Nord de la République du Congo : origines et modalités de gestion. Université de Liège – Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech

Defourny P., Delhage C., Kibambe Lubamba J.-P., 2011. Analyse quantitative des causes de la déforestation et de la dégradation des forêts en République Démocratique du Congo. UCL/FAO/CN REDD

Miehe P., 2015, Assessment of natural regeneration on skid trails in dense and transition Marantaceae forests in the North of the Republic of Congo, Master Thesis, Technische Universität München

Verhegghen A., Eva H., Ceccherini G., Achard F., Gond V., Gourlet-Fleury S. and Cerutti P., 2016. The Potential of Sentinel Satellites for Burnt Area Mapping and Monitoring in the Congo Basin Forests. MDPI AG

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