The past decades have seen a range of international conventions and agreements taking effect, including Agenda 21, the Biodiversity Convention, the Kyoto Protocol and the Convention to Combat Desertification. They all have a strong impact on the forestry sector. Forests were once the foresters’ traditional domain, but the range of forestry stakeholders is expanding fast. The scope of forestry-related activities is increasing, both inside and outside the forests. Foresters face an array of new professional challenges, and there is a perception that foresters do not, and even could not, deliver on the ever-expanding forestry agenda.
The forestry sector also reaches outside forest borders: trees are becoming increasingly important for benefits such as biodiversity conservation and use, watershed functions, carbon sequestration and for the livelihoods of millions of farmers. The forester who works only with technical aspects of growing, managing and harvesting trees within the forest domain is becoming something of the past. A ‘new’ forester is needed with a much wider set of skills and competencies.
Which additional competencies do foresters need? What kind of unlearning is necessary for foresters? Should forestry professionals of the future be different? The observable trend in the job market for foresters can be visualized as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Foresters’ professional challenges
At the country level, changes are also evident. There is pressure to devolve forest management to rural communities and local government units. Forestry departments in many countries are shrinking as a result of tight public finances or the transfer of forestry-related functions to other (often environmentally-oriented) ministries. For instance, the erstwhile forest department in Ethiopia has been reduced to just a single office in the ministry responsible for agriculture.
Employment patterns have changed too. The public sector is shrinking, affecting for example forestry extension, once a key employer of fresh graduates. The unemployment or under-employment of forestry graduates is high.
Nationally, as well as internationally, there is a declining financial support for forestry in favour of broader environment and development programmes. Poverty alleviation and improved livelihood are given more prominence and there is increasing interest in conditions outside the forests (Persson, 2003). Some donors support changes that take place in forestry institutions: introduction of social forestry, agroforestry, biodiversity, conservation and the formation of semi-autonomous forest services that are expected to function as profit-making organizations. Overall, forestry institutions, including forestry education, face difficulties in mobilizing national and international resources.
Many forestry curricula are patchworks, because new areas of study such as biodiversity, social and community forestry, agroforestry, etc., are opportunistically added on to existing programmes without due consideration for the overall direction of forestry programmes.
In an environment of limited or declining resources for forestry education, forests in tropical developing countries are particularly vulnerable to these trends. Yet, these forests hold many of the world’s biodiversity hot spots, and are valuable gene reservoirs for diversifying food, medicine and other products. Special knowledge is needed to manage the forests effectively and sustainably. The question is: are enough foresters being trained and are they being equipped with the right knowledge and skills to appreciate the growing role of forests?
Until 1997, the FAO Advisory Committee on Forestry Education (ACFE) used to monitor global trends in forestry and advise on forestry education issues. The collapse of the Committee has created an information and networking vacuum. Currently, the forestry education community lacks a joint international mechanism to guide the improvement of forestry education. Colleges and universities teaching forestry do change their programmes to keep up with new demands from society, but how well are they guided? The changes are usually ad hoc, as opposed to the result of conscious processes and interactions needed to produce robust forestry programmes.
FAO, in collaboration with two regional education networks, the African Network for Agroforestry Education (ANAFE) and the Southeast Asian Network for Agroforestry Education (SEANAFE) considered it necessary to initiate some work in remedying the above situation. They jointly considered it necessary to first establish the trends in forestry education and training in the ten-year period 1993-2002.
This survey, conducted through questionnaires, scrutiny of records and reports, and interviews, covered 55 universities and colleges in nine African and six Southeast Asian countries. Chapter 2 describes the study methodology further. Chapters 3 and 4 summarize the findings for Africa and Southeast Asia, respectively, in five key areas:
• Forestry enrolment and graduation 1993-2002
• The changing role of foresters
• Resources, facilities and funding for forestry education
• Priority needs
In Chapter 5 the lessons learned and the recommendations aimed at the key target groups of this monograph are discussed: lecturers, leaders and students of universities and colleges; education policy makers in and beyond the forestry sector, including the fields of agriculture and natural resource management and a wide range of other actors in the forestry sector.
A better understanding of what is happening in the forestry education systems is just a starting point. More work is needed to articulate the forestry professional area and, in particular, to link it with social and economic development while creating synergy with all related sectors such as agriculture, environment and wildlife management. Follow-up studies are urgently needed regarding content and delivery mechanisms of forestry education. Areas such as teaching-learning approaches, the use of information and information technologies and participation of all stakeholder groups in defining forestry education needs require further analysis.
To facilitate better interpretation of the survey results, it is necessary to appreciate the education systems in use. Figure 2 captures the general sequence of formal education and how it links with forestry education. Forestry certificate holders are expected to serve as foremen (leaders of teams of workers) in forest operations. Diploma holders are sub-professional technicians, able to supervise several teams and be involved in planning operations. Increasingly, certificate and diploma holders would be expected to advise and support farmers in tree planting activities.
Degree holders are professionals, normally serving as planners and managers, responsible for all activities in a forest or several forests. Postgraduate education is not shown in the figure. An MSc normally takes two years after a first degree, and a PhD three years or more on top of an MSc degree. Understanding the distinctions in qualifications helps to identify weak areas in education planning. In the figure, solid lines show the main source of forestry students while dotted lines show limited sources.