Mongabay: Saving the forests of the Congo Basin: Q&A with author Meindert Brouwer
Central African Forests Forever, first published in 2017, takes readers to the heart of the continent, introducing them to the people and wildlife of this region.
Its author, independent communications consultant Meindert Brouwer, says the book also functions as a tool for sharing information about efforts to address poverty and environmental issues in the region.
Mongabay spoke with Brouwer to learn more about his motivations and the reception of his work in Central Africa.
It was an ambitious project from the start: to capture the Congo Basin rainforest in the pages of a book. Stretching across an area larger than Saudi Arabia, the world’s second-largest rainforest straddles six countries in Central Africa. Many are crippled by corruption, civil conflict, and seemingly solution-less problems at the intersection of poverty and environmental stewardship. The loss of the Congo Basin’s forests has lurched along more slowly than in the Amazon rainforest or the jungles of Southeast Asia, but many experts worry that that trend won’t hold. The region’s growing population and the need for economic development have already led to the rising destruction of unique ecosystems to make way for farms, mines and timber plantations.
Perhaps such a book could introduce the world to this little-known part of Africa, highlighting why it needs protection and what’s working there to improve the lives of its inhabitants, thought Meindert Brouwer. The independent communications consultant with a quarter century of experience in conservation, much of it in Central Africa, knew it would be a challenge from the start. The paradox was that because the Congo Basin is less familiar to many people than the Amazon, it would be harder to rally the support necessary to launch the project.
Indeed, Brouwer said, finding an initial funder took time. But since then, the book’s momentum has led the project in new directions. Brouwer quickly saw that the value of the book, Central African Forests Forever, first planned only for digital publication, lay not just in its distribution beyond Central Africa, but within the region as well. It’s become a tool, Brouwer said, that facilitates the exchange of ideas across the heart of the continent, so much so that few copies remain of the edition in French, the lingua franca in most Congo Basin countries.
Mongabay spoke with Brouwer recently from his office in the Netherlands.
Mongabay: Why did you decide to write and put together this book in the first place?
Meindert Brouwer: I was at an international climate conference, showing my [previous] book about non-timber forest products from the Amazon rainforest many years ago. This woman from Africa said, “Write a book about the Congo Basin rainforest.” And so, I said, “I will.” That’s personal — I promised her to do this. But the main reason to write his book is to raise awareness about the very existence of the Congo Basin rainforest. When you’re in the street and you mention the word “rainforest” in Europe and the United States, everybody thinks of the Amazon. Hardly anyone knows about the Congo Basin rainforest. This book is meant to make the Congo Basin rainforest better known.