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The Forest Academy, a programme for increasing dialogue on forest in society and highlighting the role of forests in sustainable development, is in use on three continents. Next, the Forest Academy originating in Finland will be introduced in Mozambique.
The pine forest in eastern Finland was a complete surprise to Ms. Sílvia Maússe Sitoe from Mozambique. Compared to tropical rainforest, the northern boreal forest appeared open and safe.
“The forest was like a garden, where you could never lose your way, for example. In our forests you need a machete to move ahead,” Sitoe says.
For her colleagues, Ms. Romana Rombe Bandeira, PhD at Eduardo Mondlane University, and Mr. Alberto Manhiça, researcher at the agricultural research institute IIAM, the Finnish forest was already familiar but still interesting.
“In Finland, there are three main tree species, in Mozambique more than a hundred,” Manhiça says.
In eastern Finland, the Mozambican forestry experts participated in a Forest Academy session organized by the Finnish Forest Association. The four-day course brings together a mix of decision makers and opinion leaders from all walks of society to discuss forest issues and to explore the forest sector.
The challenge of sustainable forestry
Mozambique is one of the most widely forested countries in Africa. About half of its surface is covered by forest. The share of forest industries of the country’s GDP is four percent, and a large part of the population is dependent on firewood and charcoal as domestic energy.
“Our challenge is to bring in the sustainable use of forests as a topic in public debate,” Bandeira says. “Otherwise, our forests will no longer exist after a few decades.”
Bandeira and her colleagues hope that understanding the importance of forests could be improved by applying the methods used in the Forest Academy. They point out that the sustainable use of forests is guaranteed by law in Mozambique, but in practice there is a lot to improve.
Mozambique’s 43 million hectares of natural forest are owned by the state. Forestry is mainly carried on by international companies, which also operate tree plantations, cultivating tree species such as eucalyptus.
The private land ownership in Finland was a surprise to the Mozambican guests of the Forest Academy. Families own more than half of the 23 million hectares of forest in Finland, while the share owned by companies is somewhat over ten percent. “Private ownership certainly has its advantages, as it spreads the responsibility in forest management,” says Sitoe.
Two decades of Forest Academy
This year, the Forest Academy for decision makers celebrates its 20th anniversary. In Finland, as many as 1,300 decisions makers have taken part in the programme. According to Ms. Tiina Rytilä, director of the academy, the most important task of the discussion forum is to highlight the role of forests in the development of society.
“The Forest Academy supports the forestry sector in public debate by strengthening the networks between sectors, by providing topical and compact information and by bringing different perspectives into the forest debate,” says Rytilä.
Participants to the Forest Academy are invited from various sectors of society – from politics, business, non-governmental organizations, government, media – which ensures a diverse participant base with varied opinions. The discussions take place in conference rooms, in the forest and during visits to forest businesses all around Finland. The most recent course was held in Joensuu in eastern Finland.
According to Rytilä, the concept of the Forest Academy for decision makers is especially suitable for countries wishing to boost the use of renewable natural resources in a way that is accepted as sustainable by the whole society. In addition to Mozambique, the Finnish Forest Academy is already in use in Latvia, Costa Rica and Tanzania.
It was the Natural Resources Institute Finland, Luke for short, that brought Mozambique and the Forest Academy together. With the Eduardo Mondlane University and the IIAM Institute, Luke is developing Mozambique’s forest research in a project called Forecas.
“One element of the project is to strengthen the role of the forest sector by providing information to and developing communication with the decision makers. The Forest Academy combines all this,” says Rytilä. “I hope that the Forest Academy will help to create an open discussion culture and enable people to participate in the development of the forest sector.”
The Finnish Forest Association also publishes the forest.fi webzine.