Boosting education for greener forests

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By Maria De Cristofaro, Forestry Communications and Outreach Officer, and Andrew Taber, Social Forestry Team Leader, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

With every new forest fire or flood, and with every new report on the loss of wildlife or increase in desertification, we are reminded that we urgently need greater attention and efforts to conserve and sustainably manage the world’s forests.

Fewer natural disasters, a more stable climate, healthier people, and stronger economies are just some of the benefits that we stand to gain from helping forests to thrive.

But do we know enough about the world’s forests to take care of them properly?

There is growing international concern over the quality and availability of the training and education needed both to prepare those whose daily work and decisions most closely impact the sustainable management of forests, and to inform new generations who will look after these precious resources in the future.

We can only guess at how many children these days dream of being a forester when they grow up – likely too few. For the sake of our forests, we have to turn this situation around.

We need talented students to enter forest education programmes. We need well-trained forest managers and policymakers. We need to provide more opportunities for informal training and continuing education for forest communities and forest owners and businesses. And we need to reach the broader public.

After all, there is important work to do.

Internationally agreed targets for improving lives and protecting the planet recognize the vital importance of forests, which provide livelihoods for over a billion people, including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15, for one, aims to protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

Other SDGs, such as those concerned with clean water and the elimination of hunger and poverty, depend to a great extent on the sustainable management of forests and urban green spaces.

To ensure that forests fulfil their potential in helping to achieve many climate and development goals, we need to enrich forest education and inspire a new generation of forest managers. This is no easy task.

This week, heads of forestry from across the world are meeting online for the Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO) Committee on Forestry and 7th World Forest Week. Here, FAO and international partners will unveil details of an assessment of forest education being conducted across six regions.

The first of its kind, the survey will gather comprehensive information on where, how, and how well forest education is being taught, from primary and secondary schools to technical and vocational institutions and universities.

The survey (open for responses until 31 October) is part of an ambitious project led by FAO, the International Tropical Timber Organization and the International Union of Forest Research Organizations. The project, funded by the German government, aims to enhance forest education at national and local levels, and to address the considerable deficiencies in forest education in many parts of the world.

There are several ways we can try to achieve this. Providing easy access to information on forest education and to learning materials, including through web-based platforms, will expand the opportunities of forest-related learning to a far wider audience.

And instilling young children with an appreciation of forests, the many benefits they bring and the need to manage them sustainably is also key to inspiring the next generation of foresters.

For this last reason, Germany is also supporting an FAO project to bring targeted forest education to schoolchildren aged 9-12, starting with a pilot lesson series tailored for Tanzania and the Philippines. The interactive lessons are designed to help children understand how forests help combat climate change and contribute to food security, lives and livelihoods.

Forests are the most biologically diverse ecosystems on land, home to the majority of terrestrial species of animals and plants. If forest education remains insufficient, outdated and deteriorating in many places, we will struggle to keep pace with changing societal demands on forests and increasing pressures on forest resources.

We need to improve forest education – and more widely, public understanding of forests and forestry – to help to prepare current and future generations to do a better job of protecting land and water resources, biodiversity, and livelihoods.

This article was originally published on IISD.

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