By Martina Graf, YPARD Europe and Jakob Hoerl, IFSA
Ever heard of the word METSÄ, or of a place called Rovaniemi? No? Ok - Metsä means forest in Finnish and is a very important word in a country where 76% (23 million hectares) of the land is covered by forest and around 3% of the population work in the forestry sector, which generates 20% of Finish export revenue. Rovaniemi, the capital of Lappland and official hometown of Santa Claus, is a city in Northern Finland, right on the polar circle. Despite its location, forestry is an important driver of the region's economy.
Thus, the right place to hold the Metsä 2013 meeting, the joint session of the UN Economic Commission for Europe's (UNECE) Committee on Forests and the Forest Industry (COFFI, formerly Timber Committee) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) European Forestry Commission (EFC) from 9-13 December 2013. In parallel to the Metsä 2013 a second European Forest Week took place with activities all across Europe and its main events in Rovaniemi.
The main objectives of the Metsä 2013 sessions were to implement market discussions and fostering the engagement of the private sector, as well as measuring and communicating the contribution of the forest sector towards a green economy.
The youth of the forest sector was represented by members of the International Forestry Students Association (IFSA), who participated actively in Metsä2013. A side event named Future of Education Future of the sector? was organized under the lead of Jakob Hörl (Head of the Commission on Forestry Education) in cooperation with the International Union of Forest Research Organisation (IUFRO) that discussed the future of forestry education.
Similar to what is experienced in the education of the agriculture sector, main challenges in the forestry education, which were pointed out during the session are:
Decrease in the professional attractiveness of forest sector to youth
Lack of innovative study offers
More practical experiences or possibilities to gain them during studies to bridge from theory to practise would be required.
Better education of soft skills through e.g. Problem Based Learning (PBL), more internships
Forestry sector needs young followers, which are willing for ongoing learning, adaptive behaviour and able to act as generalists.
In the following discussion IUFRO strongly expressed their support to IFSA and emphasized the need to develop academic forestry education towards more practical relevance. Both organizations, IFSA and IUFRO agreed to take a leading role in such an initiative and to develop an Action Plan addressing those challenges. The great attendance of the side-event showed that there is an understanding and willingness of the sector to adapt the education to what is needed nowadays and in the future.
Interview with Jakob Hoerl (Head of IFSAs commission for Forestry Education)
What is the aim of IFSA in short? What is its role in the sector? And how does it contribute to a successful growth/maintenance of the sector?
The biggest aim and benefit of IFSA in my opinion is to connect forestry students (and students from related fields, like agroforestry or even agriculture) from all around the world and form this incredible network. By attending one of the various meetings IFSA hosts throughout the year, participants get a complete new understanding of how forests are managed in a different country or how policy works on the international level (which was the purpose of the IFSA delegation during Metsä 2013). Through discussions and exchange with other students this experience can be even deepened and you get friends all around the world! That means IFSA is doing Forestry Education and adds a big part to ones' education, of what you won't (and probably can't) learn at the university.
And that's already part of the role, where IFSA sees itself in forest sector. As IFSA is representing those who are directly affected by forestry education (forestry students), we figured out over the past years, that we should have an opinion and advocate actively for what we think is important for us and for future student generations. That's what we do now at various levels. For this reason we also organized the side event in the course of Metsä 2013 and the European Forest Week, to show and represent the interests of forest students globally.
We hope that we can contribute in this way to improve the overall quality of education of forestry students and ensure that future foresters/resource manager will be well equipped to face the upcoming challenges in the years to come. In my opinion, education is the key for every sector to improve and sustain itself.
What does IFSA mean to you? What is your personal motivation to engage in the sector and especially education?
I got actively involved in IFSA in my second year of studies, which is now already 5 years ago. IFSA definitely influenced my interest in and the direction of my studies and without that I probably wouldn't be who I am and where I am now. I met so many good friends from all around the world, but could build up a quite extensive professional network that will help me later. IFSA for me is like a big family of likeminded and cool people.
My personal motivation to stay involved in IFSA (I had various official positions in IFSA and was one year in the board and probably should have retired already a few years ago) and contribute to the sector is that feeling that something can and needs to be changed and improved. At the same time, I feel that through my experiences in the association and the progress in my studies, I have a quite good overview of what needs to be done and how. Meanwhile it is important to show and let younger students experience how this works, so I can hand over my task at the end of this year.
From your point of view; what are the challenges the forest sector faces now and in future? Regarding youth?
It's not gonna be easier! In fact, I think forestry and forest management will become more and more complex and in this way our education has to prepare us (forestry students) in the best way for it. The demand on forest will increase. On the one hand, they have to provide more wood and fibers and lately bioenergy. On the other hand people and society loves to be outdoors and have intact landscapes and want to protect them. Climate change will probably change the composition of species and how our forests look like and the frequency of natural hazards, such as storms that cause wind throws and flooding will increase.
To handle those completely different and sometimes opposing stakes will be task of future forest managers and will make the work in the sector challenging, but also really interesting. These challenges require real experts, so the standard type of forestry education program won't be enough and options for specializations are required. This is already the case for certain master studies in Europe. At the same time, international and interdisciplinary exchange needs to be fostered, as those challenges don't stop at the border of a country or affect only one sector.
Which relations do you see to the agricultural sector? How could the two sectors, which are in many ways interlinked, make better use of synergies?
Both sectors are working with nature and take care about big parts of our surrounding landscape to satisfy the needs of people and society. At the same time they are facing similar problems, such as an increasing disconnection of people and their environment, especially in urban centres. This leads to a loss of political significance and high competition within the sector as prices for food and basic products drop, whereas production cost increases. Both sectors should share their experience of addressing that issue and speak with one voice to reconnect people with nature and the quality products it provides! Furthermore, if we want to effectively address global challenges such as climate change, we need to see and understand the whole system and find interdisciplinary solutions. Forestry and Agriculture have a great responsibility in there.
IFSA is a global network for students in forest and related sciences, active in more than 54 countries uniting around 3000 students. IFSA is non-governmental, non for profit and non-religious organisation entirely run by students for students on a voluntary base: More info on: http://www.ifsa.net/main.php
Further information about the International Union of Forest Research Organisation: http://www.iufro.org/iufro/
More information about Metsä 2013 and the outcomes of the sessions: http://www.unece.org/forests/metsa2013.html
Picture 1: Katharina Mueller, Member of IfSA during the youth session (by Alex Trobisch) Picture 2: Jakob Hoerl, IFSA , during the youth session (by Daniela Rommel)