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3 Forestry education trends in Africa

Enrolment and graduation

There were inordinate problems in capturing data on enrolment and relate them to graduation. The problems stem from the fact that public owned colleges and universities in Africa are opened and closed according to the level of tranquillity in civil society or the availability of funding. Where civil unrests are common, the colleges and universities often experience temporary closures or postponement of programmes, and this tends to affect enrolment as well as spawn student attrition from the programmes. In some cases, colleges close down for several years, and then they re-open and crash manage their programmes to adjust to funding limitations or critical personnel needs. Detailed data on these aspects were both scanty and considered politically sensitive to share outside the countries involved.

In presenting the survey results in this sub-section, the general trends in graduation are used to indicate the overall investment in human resource capacity for forestry. Special attention is given to gender analysis.

Technician training (Certificate and Diploma in forestry)

Graduation at forestry certificate level dropped drastically after 1995, mainly due to low enrolment (Charts 1 and 2) and to the closure of the certificate programmes (e.g. at Kenya Forestry College). But the technician cadre has been affected more seriously by the adoption of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in many countries, where reduction in employment opportunities has discouraged government support for technician training in forestry and agriculture. Government actions have been either closure of certificate training programmes or drastic reductions in the number of students supported by public funds. The impact is seen directly in the quality and amount of technical services provided to forests, especially plantations. Many forest plantations are very poorly maintained, especially regarding survival, pruning, thinning and quality management of harvesting technologies and processes.

Another disturbing observation is the drop in the number of female students taking up forestry technician training. The female graduation seemed to take an upward trend starting in 1994 but suffered a serious fall from 1998 and has not been able to recover. Although the percentage of females graduating during the period did not change significantly, their number was quite small, so further reductions dealt a serious blow to efforts to attract more women into forestry. This is particularly bad news as we move towards greater participation of women in development activities, and especially tree planting by farmers. The clear conclusion from this analysis is that we are entering the third millennium with less technical capacity in forestry and drastically reduced female capacity. Yet tree planting is expected to be intensified and extended. The success of such ambitions will be strongly undermined by weaknesses in training policies and low investment in technician training.

It is very interesting to study the certificate and diploma graduations separately, as presented in Charts 3a, 3b and 4 below. In Charts 3a and 3b, the huge variations in graduation are symptomatic of inconsistencies in policies and funding of forestry technician training. They also reflect politically mediated college closures. Such interruptions discourage the best students from joining forestry programmes. They also disrupt the skilled labour supply to forestry and related industries.

From Chart 4 it is evident that since 1998, the number of certificate holders being trained is negligible. Interviewing some colleges, it became clear that, in some cases, certificate holders were registering for diploma courses to upgrade themselves for promotional reasons but, at the same time, no further enrolments were being made at certificate level. Job opportunities for certificate holders in forestry were diminishing especially in the public sector, but with no commensurate opportunities in the private sector. The long-term consequence of this is a very abnormal staff structure, with more professionals than technicians. Retrenchments and retirement of technicians is not compensated for by recruitment of young technicians. The trend has grievous consequences on sound management of forests irrespective of ownership. However, as many forests are still publicly owned, the damage may take many years to be acknowledged and repaired. Many public forests are very poorly maintained. This is also impacting adversely on forestry extension services, because technicians are the “foot soldiers” who help in disseminating proper management techniques and public policies to local communities.

Some examples are helpful in illustrating the trends indicated above: Certificate and diploma training at the Department of Forestry (Ibadan University) commenced in 1965/66 and was phased out in 1977/78. The Kenya Forestry College phased out certificate level training in 1998 and currently it sporadically admits diploma students, with high yearly fluctuations. However, there are some encouraging examples: Nyabyeya Forestry College in Uganda has steadily maintained training for a diploma in forestry and also added on a new diploma programme in agroforestry, with an intake of 40 students per year, most of them privately sponsored. This is an excellent innovation mentored by ANAFE. The Centre de formation pratique forestier (CFPF) in Mali consistently graduated 25 diploma holders every two years during the period of 1993 to 2002. CFPF (Mali) has recently encouraged and actively promoted the admission of female students by reserving five places for women (out of 25). Zimbabwe Forestry College consistently graduated an average of 20 technicians per year from 1993 to 2002. Temu et al. (2003) point out and decry the trend of diminishing technical staff that is in fact the field cornerstones for forestry practices. If these trends continue, the net effect is that soon the market of forestry professionals will be flooded without a matching backup of technical level staff, and this is extremely worrying for forestry and natural resource management in sub-Saharan Africa.

Professional education (BSc Forestry)

The number of degree programmes has increased, and along with that the number of graduates (e.g. Zambia and Malawi). There is a great need for forestry graduates (from the perspective of forest management), but there is a problem of job markets. This view is true for all countries surveyed except Sudan and Nigeria. A cursory look at countries not included in the survey tends to confirm this picture, with the situation being particularly bad in West Africa. Many universities indicated that government employment opportunities for forestry graduates have been diminishing. Some graduates are able to find employment in private institutions and NGOs, but the majority end up doing non-forestry jobs. Sudan and Nigeria have for some unclear reason been able to establish several forestry schools, despite the fact that they too face a serious problem of employment of forestry graduates.

In Charts 5 and 6, graduation by institution and the overall trend are presented. The institutional presentation clearly demonstrates the uncertainty under which professional programmes are managed. It is clear, therefore, that each institution suffers from major annual variations in student numbers. This has a devastating impact on planning and implementing programmes. The overall slightly upward trend shown in Chart 6 is an outcome of several random events rather than planned, and is largely driven by five countries: Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania and Mali. Considering that the capital investments (staff, classrooms, laboratories, equipment, field training facilities, etc.) have already been made, there is a case here of poor utilization of educational capacity and facilities as well. A visit to some of the universities revealed that some of them are closed for part of the year, and they only run when resources become available. In one case, to reduce the number of students jamming the university (due to frequent closures) courses were offered in staggered fashion, creating enormous stress on the teaching staff and compromising quality. This practice was observed at some technical colleges as well.

Professional forestry education is quite expensive, and in all the cases in this survey the costs are borne by the public. It is therefore necessary to have a very clear human resource plan that can guide the number of students the governments should support to study forestry. For instance, Roche (1975) carried out a survey, which produced pointers to forestry professional requirements for several countries in Africa. Three of the countries (Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania) included in the Roche survey are part of this survey as well. It was obvious that the estimates by Roche had not been revised, and yet there were large increases in graduation at the professional level. Most of the graduates do not find employment in the forestry sector. For example, from just three institutions offering BSc. forestry in the Sudan, and based on average number of graduates per year, at least 590 graduates were produced in 1993-2002 compared to a projected requirement of only 164 by the year 2000. The trend is the same for Kenya and Tanzania. Note that these figures would be much higher if those graduating in the 1980s were included in the survey.

Postgraduate education

Only a few universities have the capacity to deliver postgraduate education in forestry, and most of them can only take in small numbers of students at a time. Some universities have ‘Sandwich programmes’ with advanced universities in developed countries. In addition, Africa does have opportunities to send its students to foreign universities for this level of education, although scholarships for such programmes are increasingly limited. However, the foreign programmes may have limited relevance to Africa’s needs, especially if thesis research is not done in an African or tropical environment.

Chart 7 shows the postgraduates by level and gender. As expected, the number of MSc graduates exceeds that of PhDs. The gender balance is quite satisfactory, because it reflects a higher percentage of women than the commensurate proportion of women in the forestry sector. The relatively reasonable number of women in postgraduate education is a result of two strategies adopted by governments and donors:

In Chart 8, the overall trend in postgraduate education clearly shows a dive since 1998. This is a very serious trend, given the demand for postgraduate competence in teaching and research institutions. This could explain why forest research output in Africa is weak.

Resources and funding

In Annex 3, the responses received on the state of institutional resources (human, infrastructural and financial) are summarized. All institutions in the survey indicated that funding was intermittent, declining and largely from national resources. Donor funds are unpredictable, often depending on political environment, among other factors. It is fair to observe that despite the abundance of research money in research funding organizations, only two universities seemed to be adequately engaged with research funding organizations and reaping the benefits through graduate research.

It is important to note here that the experiences of forestry education institutions are not different from those of other educational programmes. The main differences are that forestry programmes, particularly at the professional level, are relatively young and were established in small departments in fairly large universities. Therefore, a proportional reduction of resources at university level would have more severe and visible impact on the already small forestry departments/faculties than the other disciplines.

Job market and the changing role of foresters

Over the 1993-2002 period there have been major changes in policies and attitudes towards forestry as a whole and foresters in particular. Although a cause-effect relationship is hard to establish, it is apparent that these changes have influenced investment in forestry and subsequently in forestry education. The policy changes may be characterized as:

In addition to the above changes, African foresters have not taken full advantage of the advances in information and communication technologies. Because of their remote location, forestry institutions are particularly left behind. Many curricula are old and wanting in terms of new approaches such as community forestry, biodiversity, integrated natural resources management and agroforestry.

All these changes have resulted in declining employment opportunities in government, reduced government investment in forestry teaching and research capital (staff, facilities, equipment, publications) and subsequently declining enrolment in forestry programmes. Brain drain has also occurred, with able educators and researchers finding greener pastures outside forestry or in other countries. Some NGOs and the private sector have absorbed foresters in jobs that are (generally speaking) peripheral to mainstream forestry but nonetheless relevant.

Priority needs in forestry education

According to the survey, teaching and learning in forestry should be enhanced to include the following areas (this is not an exhaustive list):


The inception of forestry education in sub-Saharan Africa was largely patterned and shaped after models that were already in place in Europe and North America. Shirley (1964) sketches evolutionary development of forestry education from early organization in a global context. Much of the literature on the subject in the 1960s (e.g. FAO, 1962, Shirley, 1964, Sisam, 1964) underpinned forestry’s contribution to enhancing societal and environmental values. Forestry and foresters were seen as having a direct role in reversing the degradation of world forest resources in the face of rising human population. Forestry was seeking to aid man to live successfully and sustainably with forests. As pressure on land increases, this goal becomes progressively more difficult to achieve.

It is a paradox that the increased demands on the forestry profession, have not resulted in an increase in job opportunities for forestry graduates. Instead, the opposite has occurred. Have foresters and forestry institutions squandered opportunities by failing to respond appropriately to expanding needs? The general public and especially NGOs seem to peddle the beliefs and perceptions that foresters are only trained to work in the public sector, and are fixated to forest management for timber production. Implicit in this presumption is the belief that foresters are not willing to change and respond to emerging societal needs. Ironically, the presumption is propelled by the fact that foresters have not shown their professional leadership by organizing the emerging societal needs in forestry into definable professional areas, that is providing them with an ‘institutional home’. Thus, some NGOs are increasingly taking up the tasks they consider foresters inadequately prepared to implement, and in that position they are increasingly becoming the main drivers of change.

The difficulty is probably complicated by the fact that the new concepts in land management span various traditional disciplines (e.g. land use change, soil management, animal husbandry, tree planting intensification on farms, wildlife and range management, and aspects of sociology and anthropology) that require strong communication skills and rural development perspectives. From the foregoing, the key changes needed in forestry education and practice are:

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