The BaumInvest Blog

Interview with Martin Homola – Part 1

by | 17. Sep 2021 | News from Costa Rica

Developments in Costa Rica are progressing at a rapid pace – which prompted Antje Virkus to join supervisory board member and forestry expert Martin Homola for his on-site inspection in August. On our beautiful finca La Virgen, the two of them were able to see the experience path for the Natural Forest Conservation Program progress.

In addition to visiting the BaumInvest reforestations, Antje Virkus was able to intensify cooperations in the fields of research and processing of native tree species in Costa Rica, which has already been a focus point since last year. In this context, an important appointment with the National Forestry Authority of Costa Rica was scheduled. They perceive BaumInvest as a future-oriented and exciting player in the field of domestic wood production and CO2 compensation with forests. During this meeting, the participants discussed collaboration possibilities and even set a date for another meeting in November. A lengthy exchange with a long-standing forester from the Society for International Cooperation in Costa Rica was the next element on their tight schedule. Being a true expert, she shared valuable information about tree growth of native tree species and their enormous potential for carbon fixation with Martin and Antje.

During another meeting, Antje Virkus exchanged ideas with Ronnie de Camino, forestry expert and former director of the renowned CATIE Research Institute, in San José. They discussed his beautiful works of art made of wood and made arrangements for the investor trip in November this year. Participants will have the opportunity to admire the artist’s works during an “Art Aperó” – and for those who are not traveling to Costa Rica, we will share his works in one of the next blog posts.

But let’s finally talk about our guest, Martin Homola: in a long conversation, he told us about his impressions of the reforestations, the new structure, and the helpfulness of the local people. Here is the first of two parts of the interview about his experiences on the fincas, possibilities for improvement in forestry and lost passports.

BaumInvest: Mr. Homola, you worked for the German Corporation for International Cooperation GmbH for 38 years, visiting and advising on countless forestry projects around the world – so we can assume that you have already been to Costa Rica before your latest trip, right?

Martin Homola: In fact, I have been there four or five times, the first time in the mid-90s. There has been a lot of change in the country – but my primary objective during my most recent trip was to take a concrete look at BaumInvest’s projects.

BaumInvest: Then let’s travel back to La Virgen, El Concho and San Rafael in our thoughts: What impressions did you bring back from there?

Homola: First of all, I have to say: BaumInvest is simply authentic in its external presentation. They really do exist – those sustainable and now well-managed forests. I was able to see them with my own eyes. The concept of how we imitate nature is impressive – because that’s all we really do there: We mimic the growth of a natural forest. Pioneer tree species that shoot up quickly and provide shade for other trees grow there first, too. Shade, that is much needed for the semi-shade and shade tree species that are more valuable and remain in the stand until their respective harvesting times.

BaumInvest: What is your opinion on the criticism that reforestation projects are not needed; that nature will take care of itself?

Homola: That brings us to the crux of the matter. Yes, nature would manage on its own. But it needs a lot of time to do so; it can easily take 200 years to go from zero to 100. In other words, if we do nothing, neither you nor I will ever see vital forests growing on these cleared areas again. On the other hand, we have the know-how, so let’s use it and support nature in its growth. In its natural growth. Together with the nature, we want to realize in 35 years, what the environment alone could only achieve in 150.

BaumInvest: Sounds ambitious!

Homola: But it’s possible. And considering climate change, also of the highest priority.

BaumInvest: As a forestry expert, how do you assess the use of tree species in our forests?

Homola: First of all, I was impressed by how many measurement plots have been set up. On those, the various mixtures and tree species are being studied with regard to different locations. We can only progress with accompanying studies like this. That’s why it’s also possible to plant exotics like teak, for example, even if they occasionally cause problems, such as fungus. Otherwise, it is of course even better to use native tree species, some of which I haven’t heard of before – such as Cebo, Corteza or Botarrama. I was also pleased to discover plantations of mahogany at Finca San Rafael – a very valuable and promising tree species that is native to Central America.

BaumInvest: We assume you were accompanied on your forays through our forests, right?

Homola: There was always at least one forester there to show me around. Since I speak Spanish almost fluently, I was able to have long conversations with the forest manager Pablo Angulo, for example – always at eye level, always with flat hierarchies. I didn’t want to impose anything on anyone, I just wanted to be there in an advisory capacity, give tips and get an idea of my function as a member of the supervisory board.

BaumInvest: Last year, you and a team prepared the forestry report in relation to the new BaumInvest in-house management structure on site in Costa Rica. What is there to say one year after the preparation of the report?

Homola: Last September, we prepared a report, in which we had listed deficiencies in practical forest management, for example shortcomings in delimbing and thinning measures, especially for pioneer tree species. Now, however, we saw that these things were being actively addressed. Some “future trees” are finally getting the amount of light they need to grow. We are on the right track with our own structure, but it will take two to three years to completely eliminate the cultivation deficits. But I’m not worried about that. The team on site is extremely motivated – and personally, I have really enjoyed working with the forestry team.

BaumInvest: Then why don’t you get on board?

Homola (laughs): I’m happy to be involved as a consultant and advisor. It is a real pleasure to accompany a project like BaumInvest, and to see the developments. I don’t get involved in the operational side of things; the employees here and on site do that in a very professional and well thought-out way. What particularly impressed me, if I may mention this briefly, is the way that ideas and observations of each forester, and also other employees, are heard and valued. That’s outstanding to me; it’s the only way the forests and projects actually develop. It also creates a stronger sense of community.

BaumInvest: Beside your visits to the fincas, did you also enjoy a typical barbecue?

Homola: I wouldn’t have left without it (laughs). The local team, Antje Virkus, and I had a barbecue together at our office location and had a great time. The people are very open – and helpful, as I experienced just after I arrived.

BaumInvest: Tell us more.

Homola: On the drive from the airport to the hotel in San José, my passport must have slipped out of my pocket. Anyway, I didn’t have it when I checked into the hotel. Fortunately, I had gotten a receipt from the cab driver that had the phone number of the cab company on it. The receptionist called some people, then tracked down the driver – and an hour later I had my passport back. Despite those few minutes of fright, it’s been an extremely positive experience – and the start of a great and exciting week…

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