Maderas Sostenibles SA (MSSA)
Maderas Sostenibles S.A. (MSSA) is Nicaraguan company with a proven ability to acquire lands, establish high-value timber plantations, and grow native and exotic tree species for profit.
The company’s core business is to purchase or obtain long-term land use rights to establish plantations. It purchases teak seeds from certified sources in Costa Rica and hand-selects seeds from high-quality native trees in Nicaragua. MSSA’s reforestation efforts have increased from an average of 40 hectares (has) per year from 2011-2014, 120 has in 2015, and over 120 ha planted and thinned in 2016. As a result, it now manages 785 acres (314 has) of plantations on almost 1250 acres (500 has) in three diverse locations:
Limonapa, Chinandega (2015): 360 hectares (has) of land owned by private investor with 240 has planted (net) in teak with remaining area in certified organic agricultural production (Cacao, Dragon Fruit, Moringa, Sesame);
San Rafael, Managua (2012): 28 hectares (net) owned by private investor that MSSA has planted with teak and native species;
Pueblo Nuevo, Rio San Juan, Rivas: (2007): 42 has planted with teak, mahogany and various native species with an additional 40 has in native forest. The pristine forest is under sustainable management, and previously disturbed forest is being improved through reforestation.
Planting its first tree in Nicaragua in 2007, MSSA been converting deforested land into productive plantations for over 9 years. MSSA has planted 450,000 trees on the farms it manages.
Sustainable reforestation has always been a company priority and in Addition to these trees MSSA has participated in community planting projects:
- 2008-2010, MSSA produced and distributed 60,000 trees to indigenous communities in Nicaragua’s Miskito Coast.
- 2012-2014, it distributed 40,000 trees to local communities in collaboration with INAFOR, Nicaragua’s National Forest Service, and the Municipality of Mateares.
- In 2016, MSSA will continue working to ensure sufficient wood for future generations by distributing another 50,000 trees between Mateares and Limonapa in the Department of Chinandega.
By end of 2016 MSSA will have planted a total of 600,000 trees.
MSSA’s sister company: Masaya & Co. is a furniture brand developed by MSSA to sell high-end handcrafted wood furniture from sustainably harvested wood for both the local and export markets. Both MSSA and Masaya & Co are committed to fostering the growth of wood products industry based on responsible forestry and legal compliance with government regulations.
MSSA also process sustainable sourced wood from the natural forest. From 2008 through 2012, all wood processed by MSSA was from management plans in hurricane affected areas. From 2012-2016, wood was sourced from teak plantations and 25-year management plans approved by INAFOR, the Nicaraguan Forest Service.
The company’s unparalleled strength is based on a competent, honest and savvy team of Nicaraguans and Americans that is committed to concrete results, cost control, and value-added processing. Its in-house forestry team is experienced in plantation production as shown by successful development in various parts of same country. It uses no outsourcing, and prefers total vertical integration of management and processing with high value-added skills (planting, harvesting, processing). Finally, the owners and managers are fully committed to the country and the sector. Not only do they have their own “skin in the game” but they use experienced independent auditors to review their operations on a regular basis.
More on MSSA’s team:
A finance major and native of Nashville, Tennessee, came to Nicaragua in 2002 to work on business development with the U.S. Peace Corps. After successfully finishing his two-year tour, Aram had focused on real estate development in the southern coast of Nicaragua. The development he was working in was surrounded by a tree farm and most of the houses were made of handcrafted wood. Aram became fascinated with the idea of starting a business that makes money by growing trees on devastated cattle pastures and processing this renewable resource into end products.
In September of that year, Category 5 Hurricane Felix destroyed almost 1.2 million acres of tropical forest on Nicaragua’s northeastern Atlantic coast. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) actively supported community forestry in the region at that time, and estimated that 6 million m3 worth of wood was blown over. The damage to homes and infrastructure left the economy in dire straits, and most politicians were left thinking about how to obtain donations to rebuild the Atlantic Coast.
In late 2007, Aram and his father, Michael, an attorney in Nashville, formed Maderas Sostenibles S.A. to extract logs from the fallen forests of the Atlantic Coast, replant cattle pastures with timber stands, and establish a sawmill in Rosita, RAAN to process wood for export and local sale. Since then, MSSA moved its processing operations to Managua, Nicaragua’s capital city, and founded a sister company, Masaya & Co., to distribute its furniture in Nicaragua and USA . MSSA currently manages the following businesses:
Milling of Teak lumber from plantations belonging to various landowners including:
- OPERA S.A., a 4,932 ha plantation operation managed by Equiforest S.A. as part of Harvard University’s Endowment Fund, and
- Novelteak Nicaragua, S.A., a 4,192 ha plantation company belonging to private Swiss investors
- Export of Teak blocks and logs for the Indian market
- Lumber and other wood products from both plantation-grown and well-managed natural forest operations for local and export market
- Custom furniture and carpentry from legally-sourced tropical hardwoods for the North American export market and local development
Masaya & Co. has a showroom in Nashville, Tennessee and an online store that allows it to access high-end clients with its one-of-a-kind designs (recent clients include Marriott Hotels in Hawaii). The tight linkage to a manufacturing facility allows MSSA to improve its efficiency by selling a wider range of qualities and sizes to Masaya & Co.
The major advantage that MSSA has over its competitors is that it handles wood from seedling to finished product. Many timber plantations are planted and managed by biologists, financiers or environmentalists who do not have experience processing lumber and wood into finished product thus struggle when the day comes to commercialize this renewable resource and often do not maximize profitability.
Lenin Rosales, On Aram’s second day in Nicaragua, the Peace Corps sent him for technical and language training to the small village of La Concha, outside of Managua to live with the Rosales Suarez family for several months. He promptly met Lenin Antonio Rosales Suarez. The two became life-long friends and when Aram decided to set up his own real estate firm in Nicaragua, he decided to involve his long-time trusted friend.
Since Lenin had graduated from Nicaragua’s Poli-technical University (UPOLI) with joint degrees in Public Accounting and Finance, and Computer Programming, he was a logical choice for company accountant and finance manager. No stranger to working hard, while assisting Aram on property sales in San Juan del Sur, Leon was also setting up the inventory and financial systems for a chain of hardware stores. In 2011, when Aram decided to move MSSA operations to Managua, Lenin joined the team and has been with the firm ever since.
Lenin attributes the company’s success to a careful eye on costs and not wasting wood. “Numbers can be misleading and it is always important to keep a sharp eye on product recovery. It’s too easy for workers to say that a piece of wood doesn’t fit and throw it in the scrap pile. We take a “hands-on” approach to supervision where we are constantly talking with staff in the plantations and the mill to answer questions and solve problems”. Having been with MSSA for 5 years, Lenin plans to continue working with the firm for a long time. The opportunity to work with a long-time friend in a collaborative office environment where people can see the results of their efforts every day in terms of furniture made and trees growing is his main motivation.
Responsible for MSSA’s reforestation and agricultural initiatives.
Roger Ampie is native Nicaraguan who has been involved in forestry since his childhood. Roger began helping his father, a trained agricultural engineer, to eliminate coffee rust (“la roya”) with a governmental program in the mid-1980’s. His father was promoted to manager of several tree nurseries and Roger began helping grow seedlings of Madero Negro (Gliricida sepium), Pochote (Bombacopsis quinata) and other native species as shade for coffee, fruit trees, coffee and ornamentals. During school vacations, Roger delivered trees and organic fertilizer to different sites around the country, and began understanding how different soils, climate and topography influenced tree survival and growth. His dad’s tree-growing business was successful and by 1995, it had reached annual production of over 500,000 plants in remote sites under difficult conditions.
Roger remembers his family’s un-traditional but successful approach for germinating teak seeds. They lightly toasted seeds on a traditional clay “comal” normally used to make tortillas over an open fire, and would then soak them in water. This technique paved the way for researchers around the world: Australian (2002) and Nepalese (2014) foresters noted the efficiency of softening the heavy protectant around the teak seed with water and heat. Roger’s experimental philosophy continued as he worked on shade control to improve growth of coffee plants and pruning to improve wood quality. He set up his own nursery in 1999, conducted forest inventories around the country, and managed rural economic development projects with World Vision.
An influential early experience occurred when a project evaluation team arrived by surprise to see the results of his work measuring tree growth alone in an isolated area. Roger remembers how motivated he felt when his work was favorably reviewed by international professionals, and realized that conscientious work is important whether or not someone actually sees what you are doing. This attitude continued through various positions managing teak planting teams for Norwegian (Norteak) and Canadian-U.S. (MLR Forestal) investors.
Roger isn’t a stranger to challenges. He was a technical forester for one of the country’s first FSC-certified teak operations, dramatically increased the area planted in teak (3,000 ha) in a short period of time, and helped farmers experiment with the planting of crops within teak plantations. This practical experience is complimented by his agricultural engineering degree from Nicaragua’s Agricultural University (UNA) and studies in accounting from the National University’s Center for Business Development (PROCOMIN).
What Roger likes best about working with MSSA is having the chance to prove that one does not need to spend lots of money on fancy irrigation systems or new trucks to grow trees well. As Roger puts it: “The tree doesn’t care if you are writing your reports in a nice office or under a mango tree. What matters to it is simply that you take good care of it”. Roger enjoys the non-bureaucratic working environment at MSSA and a management team not afraid of the type of pragmatic experimentation conducted by the Ampie family for generations.
Noel Roman Lopez Mairena is field manager of the MSSA operation in Rivas and Managua. Born and raised on one of the farms that he now manages, Noel’s long-term presence in the area as a stable, hard-working and honest farmer was officially recognized by the government when it approved the granting of formal possession to them. The Lopez-Mairena family lives on and around the property and in the nearby municipality of Rivas. Noel originally raised cattle on the farm but became interested in trees in 2000, when he began working for several foreign (Swiss and French) companies to plant teak and native species, as well as several non-conventional native plants used for fragrances and dyes.
Noel first met Aram 2007 while Aram was working in real estate. Despite the obvious geographical and cultural differences between Tennessee and Nicaragua, the two men found that they had much in common in terms of work ethic and a desire to create sustainable business opportunities by reforesting degraded pastures. As a result, Noel and now his son Bryan, have been managing both MSSA properties for over 8 years. Noel literally knows every square inch of the Rivas and Managua farms and has been responsible for preparing land for planting, growing seedlings, planting, thinning, and now harvesting the newly forested lands.
Oswaldo Terrero Blanco is a certified forestry engineer from the coastal town of Puerto Cabezas who has distinguished himself through successful assignments in Bolivia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru. Fluent in three languages: English, Miskitu and Spanish, Oswaldo’s strong work-ethic and ability to make things happen on the ground in a wide variety of circumstances goes hand-in-hand with the MSSA style.
Upon graduation from Nicaragua’s National Agrarian University as a certified forest engineer, Oswaldo worked with CATIE, the prestigious Costa Rica-based international research and extension institution, in Honduras and Nicaragua on technical forestry. This was followed by an appointment with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) where Oswaldo led planning and harvesting activities in Nicaragua’s first indigenous forest communities to manage their own forests and achieve FSC certification.
Oswaldo still notes that this experience was critical to his development as a professional forester: “My academic education was excellent but my best training occurred in the jungles of Rosita when I worked with communities to measure trees and log wood, trying to make a profit with them while also making sure we followed international standards on 50,000 hectares of forest”.
Such real-world experience served Oswaldo well as an FSC-certifier; he traveled to Bolivia, Brazil and Peru to apply his professional criteria to a wide range of industrial and community operations. But Oswaldo was drawn to “doing” more than “evaluating”, and he decided to accept a position with WWF to help the Embera-Wounaan tribe in Panama’s Darien region manage their 80,000 ha of forest. For 6 years, Oswaldo was instrumental in implementing international forestry practices in the difficult border forests between Colombia and Panama, and producing timber for the indigenous communities. He was proud to see the fruits of his labors when the tribe achieved FSC certification of a 30,000 ha block of productive forest that he had helped manage with the Embera-Wounaan.
After over 7 years working throughout Latin America, Oswaldo decided to apply his international experience to his home country of Nicaragua. From 2012 through 2015, he worked as the Rainforest Alliance’s forestry specialist to support management, marketing and certification work with communities in the Miskito Coast. Beginning his work with MSSA in late 2015, Oswaldo is a relatively recent addition to the team. Aram and Roger have found his realistic and global perspectives particularly useful for determining pragmatic approaches to planning, logging, trucking, environmental impact evaluation, and ultimately achieving FSC certification.
Abril Zepeda has followed an unusual route to the world of forestry and wood processing. Born in Nicaragua’s artisan capital, the town of Masaya, perhaps it was not too surprising that she became deeply involved in the design of attractive products that accentuate the distinctive nature of different trees. As a member of MSSA’s sister company, Masaya and Co. Abril works to design furniture and accessories that allow young and smaller teak, as well as the older trees, to be utilized in the most efficient, attractive way possible.
Abril’s tastes began branching out from the traditional styles of Masaya to the more modern when she first participated in the Miss Nicaragua competition in 1998. Soon after, she began international travel and was exposed to the different looks of fellow models, fashion, architecture, music and food. Her perspective widened further when she went to Washington D.C. on a fellowship to study democratic participation.
As a student of political and social anthropology, perhaps it is no surprise either that Abril focuses her energies on sustainably sourced wood that benefits the local communities supplying the same. Abril is not interested simply in planting trees and selling wood, but rather in making sure that trees go to their “highest, best and most attractive use”.
In 2014 Abril and Aram Terry established Masaya & Company as a way to complete the “seed to finished product” cycle originally envisioned when Aram began reforesting land with Maderas Sostenibles. Abril combines the handcrafted artisan techniques of her hometown with sustainably sourced teak and other unique hardwoods. Varying colors and textures of different woods meld with cotton hammock rope and other local materials to make a look that sets the brand apart.