Frequently asked questions

The company

The ForestFinance Group, headquartered in Bonn, Germany, disposes of over two decades of experience in the development of forestry investments. Now, ForestFinance manages forest investments totalling around 90 million euros and amounting to approximately 17,500 hectares of forest in South America and Asia for over 17,000 customers. About 30 employees in Bonn are primarily responsible for customer service and contract handling. In Panama, Peru and Vietnam several forestry experts supervise adherence to the high quality standards and the ecological and social principles of the ForestFinance Group. In Colombia, the land is being farmed by a forestry service provider with whom ForestFinance has been working closely for many years. Also, forestry scientists provide strict on-site monitoring.

In Panama, ForestFinance permanently employs approximately 100 people (insurance is provided). Up to 450 people are indirectly or seasonally employed and tasked with the afforestation and maintenance of our various forests.

Founder and CEO of the Forest Finance Service GmbH Harry Assenmacher has played an active role in the field of ecology since the early ’80s. Harry Assenmacher is managing the company together with Christiane Pindur who became CEO in 2013.

What started as the partner company of a Panamanian forestry company in 1997 became an independent German limited liability company (Forest Finance Service GmbH located in Bonn) with subsidiaries, associated companies and branch offices in Panama, Vietnam, Colombia and Peru, which are land-owning companies or provide customer service in various regions of these project countries.

The ideal symbiosis of profitable investments and ecologically meaningful activities is the top priority of all staff and the idea behind all ForestFinance Group products. With the TreeSavingsPlan the ForestFinance Group succeeded in developing an investment product which allows low budget investors to make a sustainable investment with lucrative returns in an ecologically sustainable raw material.

ForestFinance projects are located in Germany, Colombia, Panama, Peru and Vietnam. Learn more about our project locations here.

Each of your ForestFinance investments is a contribution to environmental and climate protection, supporting the reforestation of fallow land in Panama and Peru and the sustainable transformation of monocultures into mixed forests in Vietnam and Colombia. Your trees help to improve the soil quality; they act as natural water storage and provide habitats for rare plant and animal species.

Apart from species protection, your investment plays an important role in climate protection: trees sequester CO2 from the atmosphere, mitigating the global increase in greenhouse gases. Plus: nature needs time to regenerate. Your investment protects forest permanently. The CO2 capture and storage is guaranteed for by international standards such as Gold Standard.

Your investment in forest provides livelihoods for people in Panama, Colombia, Peru and Vietnam, who make a living from our projects. At peak times, up to 500 employees work at the ForestFinance project locations, earning more than the national minimum wage. We support our employees in developing their skills and offer them the possibility to take part in further education and training.

For instance, we have introduced an on-the-job education programme in Vietnam which was implemented by the Sequa gGmbH, the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and ForestFinance. In Panama, your investment supports a public nature trail which is used by surrounding schools to raise the pupils’ awareness for nature. Environmental education plays a key role in involving the local population.

The ForestFinance Group is an important contact for economic, forest scientific and development organisations. In particular our good networks in the project countries and our commitment to sustainable development are reasons why our partners trust us.

ForestFinance is a founding member of both the Business and Biodiversity Initiative ‘Biodiversity in Good Company’ in Germany and the Biodiversity Partnership Mesoamerica, together with the environmental institute CATIE. As a full member of the Forest Stewardship Council Working Group Germany e.V., we work together with forest owner associations, public forest administrations and forestry companies in the interest of a sustainable timber certification. Moreover, ForestFinance founder and CEO Harry Assenmacher is a member of the Senate of the German Environmental Foundation and the German Senate of the Economy.

Yes, of course they can. One of the best ways for companies to do so is an investment in “WildeBuche” (WildBeech), a forest project in Germany which allows you to protect old beech forests for at least 50 years. Apart from this project, there are various other ways for companies to sustainably invest in forest, such as a pension scheme for employees.

CO2OL, a brand of the ForestFinance Group, offers companies the possibility to contribute to climate protection and, at the same time, to create social and ecological additional benefits by investing in international forest projects and by offsetting their corporate carbon footprint.

Forest & forestry

No, this is not a “new” rainforest. Once primary forests and rainforests have been clear-cut they are irrecoverably lost. What does, however, come into existence through ForestFinance and your investment is a new secondary forest suited to the location. Fallow land is turned into a forest ecosystem, providing new habitats for the local flora and fauna (“plenter forest”).

The certified, ecologically-sustainable forest management ensures that the forest becomes an attractive living-space for animals and serves as a stepping stone between primary forest remnants. As a rule, the ecosystem of a newly planted forest is less complex than that of a primary forest. Achieving the same complex condition as its predecessor usually requires hundreds of years of regeneration and a strict ecological orientation of the forest management.

Learn more about our forests and our certified sustainable forest management system here.

We believe it does! The planting of mixed forests, as it is done by the ForestFinance Group, creates jobs for the local population in and through the forest. As a result, people are no longer forced to cut and destroy primary forests elsewhere in order to cover their need for timber und to make a living.

At the same time the trade pressure on timber from rainforests is eased by the production of certified, ecologically sustainably produced timber. The availability of sustainable timber in world trade means that one does not have to fall back on supplies from the (illegal) exploitation of primary forests – which must, of course, be completely banned.

Thirdly, afforestation projects contribute to the reconversion of fallow land into a forest ecosystem. They provide food and habitats for numerous endangered animals, protect the soil from erosion and dehydration and are important carbon sinks.

ForestFinance forests are in general completely different from monocultures. The ecologically managed forests mainly consist of native tree species that are suited to the location. We are building forests or, more specifically, the tropical version of a plenter forest. All of the ForestFinance products aim at creating a socially and ecologically sustainable forest suited to the location. However, there are some differences between the individual products:

1. TreeSavingsPlan and ForestSavingsPlan

The TreeSavingsPlan and the ForestSavingsPlan are investments in the reforestation of fallow land with mixed forests that mainly consist of native tree species and include a nature reserve area. As these projects are for-profit, the planted tree species are selected according to their productiveness and market value (such as Teak, Mahogany, Amarillo, Cedro Espino, Zapatero and Cocobolo). Chemical fertilisers and pesticides are avoided when possible. The forest areas usually consist of former pasture land.

This means we are not yet in the final stage of the forest management but at its beginning which resembles, during the first years in particular, a tree nursery that rapidly develops into a tropical mixed forest. However, this new forest is a secondary forest, not an old-growth rainforest.

2. PureCocoa

The primary goal of PureCocoa is to create an ecologically sound agroforestry system by planting cocoa trees combined with the required shading trees of various species. Thus, our cocoa trees grow in a forest and not in a plantation. Through our sustainable management of the agroforestry systems the cocoa forest is transformed into a mixed forest. We do not use agrochemicals or genetic engineering.

PureCocoa is more than an investment: You also enable the protection of rare plants and animals in Bocas del Toro, Panama, a region which is considered to be a biological hotspot. Species that are particularly in need of protection are for example the Panamanian jaguar, the squirrel monkey and the cycad Zamia skinneri.

3. GreenAcacia

By contrast, GreenAcacia includes already existing acacia plantations that are acquired and gradually converted into a forest by ForestFinance. Acacia trees improve the soil by aerating and enriching it with nutrients, enabling other tree species to grow. After the first thinnings and only about 12 years the first native tree species can be planted – the beginning of a mixed forest.

Regardless of the product, the secondary forest that comes into existence through your investment will endure, even after the harvest. It becomes an important gene pool, provides new habitats for numerous animals and plants and contributes permanently to water and climate protection.

Learn more about our forests, the tree species growing in them and their benefits.

A fair exchange of interests without expulsion or taking advantage of the financial situation of sellers has always been part of our corporate philosophy. This means that ForestFinance contributes to the improvement of the living and working conditions of the local population, including the land sellers through the creation of long-term and socially secure jobs but also through additional social programmes and by directly involving the local population. New forest can only be created in a sustainable and long-lasting way if the local population benefits from it, too.

Teamwork is at least as important in the forest as it is at the office. People who depend on the forest will help to conserve it and to expand it. Similar to the production of organic food, a forest investment is worth its price only (but then indeed) if all of the involved parties benefit from it. For this reason, ForestFinance categorically objects to generating the profit of its customers from the exploitation of its suppliers, employees or nature. This comes at a price – and sustainably thinking and acting investors have to pay it.

These are the acronyms used for the most commonly known standards that are applied to certify the social and ecological sustainability of climate protection or forest projects. ForestFinance forests are certified according to these standards by independent third parties.

1. FSC

The Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC® for short) is an international NGO aiming at the conservation of forests by means of an environmentally appropriate and socially beneficial forest management. To this end, the FSC developed a label for timber that is acknowledged worldwide. The forest management assessment leading to the FSC certification is carried out by independent certification bodies such as the Rainforest Alliance. Numerous environmental organisations and unions support the FSC. Our forests in Panama are ecologically-sustainably certified.

2. Gold Standard

In 2012, the Gold Standard Foundation acquired the CarbonFix Standard, extending its original project scope into land use and forests. This extended Gold Standard 3.0 recognises performances in the fields of sustainable resource extraction in agricultural and forestry sectors, protection of biodiversity as well as water protection and social fairness. The Gold Standard is acknowledged worldwide for its strict criteria guaranteeing the credibility and integrity of compensation projects. Three of our projects have been awarded a Gold Standard certification. ForestFinance and CO2OL are the project developer with the most diverse Gold Standard transition project portfolio in the market and most experience in the development of Gold Standard forest carbon projects.

3. CCBA

The CCBA (Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance) standards certify project benefits for the climate, regional development and biodiversity. Our afforestation project in Panama was awarded the “gold” certification (2010–2015). The project assessment leading to the CCBA certification is carried out by the Rainforest Alliance.

Learn more about the standards here.

To achieve the required quality, a shorter period just cannot work for a reforestation that begins with the planting of seedlings. The tropical climate, a high-quality forest management and good soil conditions permit trees to grow almost six times faster than in Germany. To obtain usable timber of the same quality in Germany would require 80 to 140 years. It is all about a natural process. This is why the first major proceeds from the ForestSavingsPlan and the TreeSavingsPlan are only available after approximately 25 years. ForestFinance makes sure that all prospective customers are aware of this.

Promises of significantly shorter investment periods and higher returns are, in our opinion, based either on incorrect information or on environmentally destructive, unsustainable forestry such as Eucalyptus, or other monoculture, fast-growing non-native trees.

ForestFinance products that are based on short rotation plantations with monocultures such as acacia mangium are only temporarily used to improve the soil, preparing the area for afforestation with a mixed culture after harvest. Therefore, first payouts from our GreenAcacia forests can be expected after a short investment period of twelve years.

Products: GiftTree, TreeSavingsPlan and ForestSavingsPlan

Year 1 - 3

The largest amount of labour is required before you have even invested: seedlings are cultivated from selected quality seed and already existing forests in our own tree nurseries. Planting times differ according to the region: In Panama, planting time lasts from June to October with geographical and climatic differences. The seedlings measure 20 to 40 centimetres and have to survive their first dry period from December to May. Seedlings that do not survive this first dry period (less than four per cent) are replaced with new seedlings in the following year.

The main tasks during the first years are regular checks (almost every day), regular treatment for pests, pruning etc. All ForestFinance products in Panama offer a replanting guarantee for the first five years. This means that seedlings that do not take, or trees that show little or bad growth are replaced at our cost. Nevertheless, it needs to be taken into account that a mixed forest system imitates the natural selection process and benefits from it. Actually, the natural “drop out” of individual trees is welcomed as it stimulates growth optimisation and the selection of the best trees. This process is further optimised trough thinnings.

Year 4 - 5

When the trees reach their fourth or fifth year they are strong enough to fight for survival in the tropics (almost) unassisted. At this stage care of the trees is focused on timber requirements (as straight as possible to ensure maximum timber yield).

Year 10 - 13

Thinnings takes place to clear space for further growth.

Year 15 - 19

Further thinning.

Year 22 - 25

Harvest and timber sale. Payout to customer.

(GreenAcacia)

Year 1 - 2

The areas in Colombia are already completely planted with older acacia mangium trees. The stage of tillering, which is most complicated, has already been accomplished. The forest managers encourage the trees to grow as straight as possible in order to achieve a maximum harvest.

Year 3 - 12

The calculated yields in the years 3, 5, 7, 9 and 12 are based on the harvest and timber sales that are scheduled and organised by our forest service provider.

After the investment

New afforestation and underplanting with self-grown native seedlings; gradual conversion of the area into a mixed forest.

Of course you can! Just give us a short notice if you are planning to go to Panama. Our colleagues will be happy to organise a visit of the areas accompanied by one of our forest engineers (“investor trip”) for you. Unfortunately, the locations of the areas in Colombia, Vietnam and Peru are rather remote and therefore not well-suited for visitors. Please contact us!

Each year, we alternately publish a general activity report and a forestry report or project reports from our locations respectively. Customers are also informed by newsletter when new reports are being published. All reports are available in your online customer account, which you will find at www.forestfinance.de under “My account”. Based on the information where your forest area is located, you are then able to learn from the reports how your trees have developed and which activities took place on the project area in the preceding year.

Furthermore, we strive to keep the picture galleries for each finca (which you will find in your customer account and under pictures) up to date to allow you to see new pictures of your trees on a regular basis. Please do not hesitate to contact us (0049 228 943 778 27) should you have any further questions.

Investment

No, these products are not deposit business transactions. There is no deposit guarantee as there is for bank deposits. The ForestSavingsPlan and the TreeSavingsPlan are direct investments in a natural resource (growing trees).

The forecast return depends on the product. You will find more information on our return expectations, and what they are based on, on our product pages and in our product flyers. The return forecasts of all ForestFinance forest and agro forest products are based on:

  • experiences and values of the past,
  • actual sales returns and
  • expectations in future developments. 

To this end, we analyse data from numerous reliable sources such as international indices and trading publications (for instance ITTO, NCREIF, FAO), own sales experiences and market studies. The following are some of the most important parameters of our calculations:

  • timber yield per area,
  • prices for various tree species,
  • whether the timber is sold on the national or international market,
  • timber qualities and certificates,
  • additional returns from the sale of own certified seed material or carbon credits.

Similar criteria are applied in order to calculate the returns of processed products (for instance wood chips, pellets or charcoal) and agricultural forest products (such as cocoa). Of course, we adjust our return forecasts to market developments on a regular basis. The returns from the sale of timber and other forest products are expected to rise, but are accompanied by costs which are partly rising as well. However, tropical forestry causes most of the costs during the first three to five years. This way, approx. 70 per cent of the overall costs occur during the first five years. This minimises the cost risks for long-term forest investments. Read more about our return forecasts here.

Initially it remains in Germany. ForestFinance clients make deposits into a German bank account. For safety reasons, if for no other, the ForestFinance Group manages its funds in Germany, which proved itself during the bank crisis in 2008/2009. The liquidity reserves of ForestFinance are invested conservatively (German fixed deposit accounts in euro as well as in dollar to balance exchange rate risks). The long-term reserves are also partly invested in real assets (real estates). According to the progress of the forestry work, the funds are transferred quarterly and step by step to the country where the forestation takes place and, there, are used promptly for the afforestation of the forest area leased or purchased by you.

The ForestFinance Group balances the individual companies both in Germany and in the Central American and Asian region according to a consistent international standard and submits a consolidated and certified balance sheet for the whole concern. This way, a transparent monitoring of all funds is ensured. Information regarding the economic state of the ForestFinance Group and its investments is published in our annual report. We work with external auditors and tax advisers who provide assistance with our balance sheets and accounting. Of course, the Forest Finance Service GmbH fulfils all disclosure requirements in Germany. However, our communication towards our customers goes far beyond this. You will find our financial and sustainability report here.

The ForestFinance Group will harvest and sell the usable trees. The profits generated from the sale of trees will be transferred from the respective afforestation country to the bank account indicated by you. Harvest and distribution costs are already included in all return forecasts. Please remember to keep us informed about your address/bank account to allow us to contact you after the harvest of your trees.

There is no unitary taxation policy for ForestFinance products. According to the current German tax law respectively tax authorities the TreeSavingsPlan for example is classified as a consumer good. All decisions made by tax authorities are case-by-case decisions, meaning that other tax authorities are not bound by these decisions. Existing decisions by tax offices are no guarantee that “your” tax office will follow suit.

Please ask your tax consultant, auditor or appropriate tax office. We support our clients where necessary. However, please note that we do not offer legal or tax advice. Where necessary, seek the advice of professionals competent in these fields.

In the case of a bankruptcy, you are protected by the following safeguards: first, your investment is an investment in a real asset which is no part of the bankrupt’s assets in the case of an insolvency of the Forest Finance Service GmbH. The real asset (your investment) remains the property of the investor. Second, since tropical forestry causes nearly 50 per cent of all costs during the first year (area, preparation, tree nursery, afforestation, tree tending measures) and approx. 75 per cent of all costs during the first five years, the investment risk decreases in the course of the investment period (whereas the real value “grows”).

Yes, an investment in forest and cocoa carries risks, just like any investment; the final economic result is not yet known and can only be forecast by us. Transparency plays an important role in our corporate philosophy. You will find more detailed information about risks and general information about our forest products here. Sales brochures for the ForestFinance products including all risk disclosures regarding the specific product are currently being finalised.

ForestFinance has taken several separate protective measures against risks. For instance, an ecological forestry concept already helps to prevent pests. A wide variety of species offers better protection from pests than a monoculture. In addition, a very thorough forestry care and highly labour intensity are applied. As a last resort, mainly organic pesticides are used to fight pests. For over 20 years, this system has been exhaustively tested and found effective. In order to prevent fire, firebreaks have been cut through all forests, firefighting equipment has been provided and a fire watch system has been introduced during the high risk months (March, April in Panama). In 2010, this system proved itself during a highly-destructive fire in a neighbouring (non-ForestFinance) forest. Our plantings suffered no damage! In addition, our afforestations in Panama (the same applies to GreenAcacia Colombia) are covered for fire damage by fire insurance.

ForestFinance strictly follows German consumer protection legislation and grants its customers termination rights over and above this regulation. As a consumer you can withdraw from the contract without any statements of reasons in written form (e.g. via mail, fax or e-mail) within two weeks, at no additional cost.  

Our sales brochures, inlcuding more detailed information about the right of withdrawal, are currently being finalised. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this issue.