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How good is forestry education today?

Marc J. Dourojeanni

Marc J. Dourojeanni is Professor in the Faculty of Forestry Sciences of the National Agrarian University of La Molina (Peru), and Visiting Professor in the Forestry Faculty of the University of Toronto (Canada). This article is based on a paper presented at the IX World Forestry Congress in Mexico City from 1 to 10 July 1985.

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This article will deal with matters relating both to formal education - university, technical and, to a certain extent, primary and secondary - and to informal education such as training, extension and awareness-building. Each theme will be dealt with in a general way and, consequently, statements will not necessarily reflect the actual situation in each country. However, the most noteworthy trends or exceptions will be mentioned. Although no references will be given, much of the article is endorsed by the reports of the sessions of the FAO Advisory Committee on Forestry Education and by other material kindly provided by FAO.

Current problems

Wrong educational priorities. University education, i.e. the training of professionals, is very often seen as the first and, implicitly, the most important aspect of the various themes grouped under the heading of forestry education.

The main issues in forestry education should be those relating to the creation of public awareness of the social value and rational use of the sector's natural resources, through school and university education in general and through the mass media Equally important is the effort directed toward giving the rural labour force, through extension work, the knowledge necessary to administer its forest resources properly. But awareness-building and extension work have never received the interest and support they deserve from the forestry sector; instead, most support has been given to the training of professionals, in particular university professionals.

World forestry has thus lost the chance to create the political support it so desperately needs because, among other reasons, many of its objectives are long-term. It has also failed to achieve its practical goals in rural areas, where the great majority of rural people continue to be indifferent to the forest or unaware of how to draw benefits from it.

Growing imbalance between professional and technical levels. It must be acknowledged that during the last two decades great progress has been made in achieving the objectives of training a sufficient number of professionals and technicians and preparing them for specialized tasks. Dozens of new forestry faculties, new graduate programmes and tens of thousands of students and young professionals bear witness to this progress. Similarly, although in incomparably lower proportions, more technical schools have been established; existing ones, meanwhile, have continued to operate well. Despite this, the imbalance between university graduates and technicians or middle-level professionals has grown, particularly, though not solely, in the least developed countries. The most notorious imbalance occurs in Latin America, where in 1978 there were almost three ingenieros for every technician; and this ratio has obviously increased even more in recent years. At the opposite extreme is Africa, where the shortage of forestry officers continues to be extraordinarily acute in many countries. In other continents and regions there is a better balance, but with the exception of a few countries the ratio of professionals to technicians is not appropriate. Even in developed countries foresters with advanced academic degrees often undertake work that is more suited to medium-level technicians, although in these cases, this is mainly a result of the lack of suitable employment at their level.

The great objective that has not been achieved in the twentieth century is the management of natural forests. The truth of this statement is evident in the case of tropical forests - dramatically reduced year by year with no real benefit to anyone. But it also applies to most of the natural forests utilized in the temperate countries, particularly in the European part of the Soviet Union and in North America, where degradation of the forest resources is tangible. If forest resources are as important for humanity as the foresters say, this situation should not be allowed to occur. The economic, social and environmental importance of the world's forest heritage is not questioned. Hence responsibility for what is happening lies with a profession which is unable to establish better links with society. The impressive ideas about multiple use, forestry for the people and so on have not had any significant effect either on the profession or on the resources administered.

Forestry and conservation: Diverging paths?

Although foresters, particularly in continental Europe and Latin America, have always felt responsible for the conservation of nature and natural resources, and although the forestry sector in these regions is also responsible for protected areas, wildlife and sometimes even soil and water conservation, foresters have always regarded conservation as a secondary aspect of their profession - so much so that many of their responsibilities in this field have gradually passed to other professionals. The substantive work that has been done in the last two decades is more a result of individual enthusiasm than of a conscious decision taken by the forestry sector. This attitude on the part of professional foresters has done much to reduce the social impact of forestry in a world where environmental concern is growing rapidly.

Also increasing, however, are the problems that affect every aspect of forestry education. The first of these is the inadequate training given to technicians, sometimes so theoretical that it transforms them into poor replicas of university graduates. This problem is particularly serious in Latin America. Other technicians, in particular those who carry out guard duties (forest, park and hunting guards), usually receive training that is too short (a few months or even weeks) for them to have enough theoretical and practical information to do their work properly. This defect is particularly noticeable when these tasks are partly or wholly carried out by armed agencies or police forces as, for example, in Venezuela, Peru and Brazil. It must be said, however, that the standards of technical training in Europe, North America and most of Asia are fairly adequate.

The training of forest workers, for both forestry and forest industries, is still a worthy goal rather than a reality in most of the developing world. The private sector has never taken an interest in or accepted any responsibility for the cost of supplementary training for its workers

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University forestry education: A delicate task

The previous criticism of the priority assigned to the training of university-level professionals as compared with other aspects of forestry education must not be taken as a denial of its intrinsic importance. Graduate foresters can be agents of change in society. They must recognize public interest in the medium and long term and the aspects in which it contradicts immediate interest, whether public or private. Their duty, not always either easy or appreciated, is to see that public interest is always placed before immediate interest. This is one reason why it is important to provide professional foresters with adequate training to prevent them from being content with merely going along with the prevailing current instead of trying to change to a less destructive course.

Resistance to change, ingenuousness, self-sufficiency, isolation and other characteristics. There are grounds for stating that the quality of the average professional forester is not high enough. This is a first consequence of the enormous resistance to change of university institutions, a resistance that is increasing throughout the world as the newest institutions imitate the programmes and organization of the existing ones. It is sad to have to admit that forestry university institutions are characterized not only by a lack of originality and adaptation to local circumstances, but that they are also ingenuous, self-sufficient and extremely addicted to theorizing. The accusation that a university is an ivory tower, isolated from the world, is much truer than is generally admitted

No other conclusions can be drawn, unfortunately, when facts such as the following are so widespread: programmes of study and course contents have remained practically unchanged during the last 20 years despite impressive scientific and technological advances and, above all, despite the environmental, population, energy and economic crisis shaking the planet. The university, home of advanced human thought, has not redefined the role of forestry and hence its own future role. New courses in economics and, especially, in social sciences - about which there has been so much talk during the last three decades - have not been introduced The "foresters" who are developing the virgin lands of Amazonia have never attended a single lesson on the dwellers of the region; young African foresters know nothing about the tribal life that continues, openly or hidden, in forest areas. Foresters working in a developing country know only those agricultural or rural realities in the country that they themselves have observed, out of personal interest and initiative. The words "agrarian reform" continue to seem alien and even subversive. Shifting cultivation, which transforms the tropical forests into smoke, continues to be regarded as an uncontrollable "plague", like goats, and not an essential subject for academic work on the social aspects of forestry.

Academic ingenuousness is shown in the idea, so common among academic staff, that scientific research is free of political overtones and compromising motives; however, a gigantic portion of the budgetary cake and of research workers' time is devoted to research that serves essentially to enable a few people to make more money, while providing ever fewer jobs. In addition, because it does not have its own funding, most university research is for sale to the highest bidder, i.e. usually large industry. A university should ask itself which social sectors it is serving It must know whether it is serving society as a whole or whether the service it provides is to meet risky immediate interests instead of widespread and permanent social interests.

The imbalance between university graduates and technicians or middle-level professionals has grown.

The environment again. Environmental problems, so deservedly in fashion since the 1960s, have led, especially in North America, to the creation of a few new - although in most cases, short-lived - courses. Forestry faculties in North America are usually satisfied with the environmental content of their programmes, as are forestry faculties in Europe, but with less reason. In Eastern Europe particularly, the environmental content of courses usually consists merely of touching on traditional aspects of ecology as applied to silviculture and management, with a passing reference to recreation and hunting for sport. This is obviously an extraordinarily limited vision of the environmental problem in today's world. Presumably the devastation wrought by acid rain in European forests is changing this attitude.

The author has seen some curricula in which the term forest ecology either does not exist, or if it does, it refers essentially to the physical factors of the environment. But there are exceptions: forestry faculties may even have conservation departments which provide a whole range of obligatory and optional courses on the management of natural areas; integrated rural development; agroforestry; wildlife management; pollution in rural areas; soil conservation; and watershed management. These are offered in addition to the traditional ecological content of courses such as silviculture or forest management.

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Forest management again. Universities always offer one or two courses in forest management as part of a wide range of courses concerned with management. But, oddly enough, the courses in forest management are usually weak in content and structure. Therefore, universities may produce excellent photo-interpreters or inventorists or silviculturists or even geneticists or pathologists. Yet this only helps to create absurd situations as, for example, when enormous sums are spent on making a detailed inventory of tropical forests that will be destroyed by shifting agriculture before they can be utilized or which, in the best of cases, will be logged without any plan. Another example, very common in the rich countries of the north, is to seek to remedy management errors or deficiencies with pesticides and other poisons.

It is also worrying to note a growing tendency to separate and isolate training in forest industries in specializations that should be given only at postgraduate level. Forest management and silviculture are key elements in the training of any forester worthy of the name. When the "forester" in charge of an industry is unaware of or forgets the goals and limitations of sustained production, he or she becomes a dangerous enemy of good forestry and of medium and long-term social interests. The mere transfer of logging from the sphere of management to that of industries was enough to produce negative repercussions. Logging is much more the culmination of management than the first stage in industry. Errors in this delicate operation can compromise the future of a forest for decades. Logging must return to the sphere of forest management but, more important, close and harmonious relations must always be maintained between the two complementarities of the profession: management and industries.

On the quality of education. The quality of university forestry education, in the strict sense, should not have declined in the rich countries but it is, however, falling off lamentably in all the developing countries affected by the economic crisis. The main effect of the crisis, apart from a shortage of material means, is the loss of qualified teachers, both in numbers and in effective dedication to teaching. How could it be otherwise when in only three or four years their salaries have fallen, in real value, by as much as 30 percent? Most university lecturers in Latin America are paid less than US$ 300 a month; they devote themselves to other activities to survive. Another cause of deterioration in the quality of education is, obviously, the explosive proliferation of forestry faculties in countries where human and economic resources barely suffice for one or two. In addition, many of these faculties are in universities set up solely to satisfy subordinate regional interests. The most contradictory situation occurs in Latin America, where idiosyncrasy and prevailing conditions lead everyone to seek a university degree. Hence the extraordinary shortage of technicians.

Also associated with the concept of quality is the number of professionals trained. In developed countries with a free economy, as in Latin America in general, the supply of professional foresters undoubtedly exceeds the real demand, and there are growing legions of unemployed or underemployed foresters. In the socialist countries, where university entry is controlled, the balance is better. In Africa there is an acute shortage of professionals, particularly locally trained ones. The growing number of Latin American professional foresters is associated with an evident deterioration in quality, which will become much worse before the end of the century.

In assessing how many professionals are required, the indices used by FAO and other international organizations have not been taken into account because they are both economically optimistic and unrealizable. These indices, which concern the number of professionals and technicians per thousand hectares of forest, need to be revised or changed. It must also be recognized that women are occupying a growing percentage of places in universities - one of the most notable positive developments.

A negative aspect of the training of professional foresters, particularly in the developing countries, is the lack of practical work in forests and industries. Because of the high cost of maintaining students and their teachers in the forest, the indispensable contact with reality has been reduced to a minimum (frequently less than two months during the entire course) and in some cases, is non-existent, limited to visits to nurseries, forests and industries without any academic work in these places.

Another partly connected problem peculiar to the developing countries is that professionals, including even the youngest ones, prefer to work in towns. If, forced by circumstances, they find themselves near a forest, they avoid entering it, taking refuge in offices or venturing only as far as cross-country vehicles will go. It is as though they have no vocation, which may, in truth, be another part of the explanation. The main goal of professionalization is usually social prestige, and the second, concomitant with this, is to earn more money. It is a sad but incontrovertible fact that urban foresters have better salaries and opportunities than foresters in the field, who are frequently forgotten.

In Africa, the shortage of forestry officers continues to be extraordinarily acute in many countries.

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Postgraduate education. The postgraduate training of foresters at the doctorate or master's level has also changed during the last decade, particularly in Latin America. There are more programmes, more specialized fields and undoubtedly considerable increases in the proportion of students and graduates. The graduate students are usually of better quality than the professionals, but suffer from more or less the same tendencies. However, they do usually take subjects such as the environment or economic and social matters more seriously. There are proportionately more unemployed foresters than before with advanced degrees in North America, Latin America and Asia, while in Africa there is a big shortage proportionate to that of professional foresters. In Europe, most of those studying for doctorates are already working in the forestry sector and their training does not necessarily imply creating new jobs.

Identifying the priority subjects

During the twentieth century forestry has concentrated on meeting the demands for raw material of an industry that is essentially geared to meeting the demands - sometimes exacerbated by consumerism - of the richest. That is why there has been so much progress in silviculture and industrial processes and comparatively little progress in aspects of forestry that are equally or more important. It is as though foresters, who previously aimed at long-term social interests, had shortened their sights as they shortened the rotations of pines, poplars and eucalypts. This concern with immediate objectives, which is not reprehensible in itself, nevertheless entails enormous risks for the world's forest heritage and for society in the next century. The day is already approaching when the much vaunted but little considered "indirect" benefits of the forest will be given the place they deserve. In other words, the services of the forest will be as valuable as the goods it produces, if not more so.

This change can already be felt; it is expressed through, among other things, the renewed interest in firewood, agroforestry and other areas. At the same time there is growing realization in urban areas of the harmful consequences of the present disregard of the ecological functions of forests and other wooded areas. This is evidenced by the "green" or "ecological" parties and also by the unrestrainable development of non-governmental organizations. These and other factors will make it necessary to take steps to give forestry a much stronger social content and also to restore the idea of long-term effort and broad criteria. In summary, it is probable that forestry in the future will be geared more to the needy social sectors and ruled less by conventional economic theories. It will undoubtedly be a more politicized activity, in the best sense of the word.

In this context, what subjects will have priority in forestry and forest education? There will probably be a decided bias toward the generation of services. With regard to the production of goods, there will be more insistence on goods that serve rural social interests or which provide more social benefits, such as jobs, through the production of goods for the rich. This will result in areas of action such as those discussed in the following paragraphs.

Afforestation and reforestation with quick-growing species, as well as management of established stands, will continue to be important because such stands will undoubtedly have to provide ever-increasing proportions of raw materials to meet industrial demand. But this activity must be seen in the right dimension, i.e. as one area of forestry, not its essence. If stands are established on land already deprived of natural forests, they obviously help to relieve the pressure on the remaining forests. However, a growing proportion of the plantations will not be used for industry, but will serve to supply the rural poor directly with fuelwood and charcoal, with feed for their livestock and food for themselves. Reforestation and watershed management will also have much more importance than at present.

If rural development is to be really integrated, no aspect of forestry can be ignored, least of all those relating to services such as the regulation of water flow, water quality and the prevention and control of wind and water erosion. Foresters have so far been unable or unwilling to "sell" or "lend" assistance in this field. In the few cases that they have, they have done so timidly, either getting around or - all too often - deceiving rural development planners. In the future forestry must act as the protagonist of sustained rural development on land unsuitable for agriculture.

The management of natural forests must resume its importance in the production of both goods and services. As time passes the production of goods will become less important than the generation of services, but this is still many decades away. The battle for the management of the natural forests that still exist will be hard and long, but is essential if the forests are to survive. It will be essentially a political battle, and it will be lost in advance if foresters do not consider it necessary.

Closely linked is the need to avoid both the destruction of forests and the turning of land suitable for forestry to other uses, particularly in the humid and dry tropics. Forestry must act openly and energetically in this matter, adding its voice to that of other concerned sectors rather than dissimulating or minimizing it, as has too often happened. Tropical foresters will have to find ways of managing and utilizing the hundreds of millions of hectares of secondary forests created by the expansion of the agricultural frontier. These are being wasted at present, yet they could make an effective contribution to keeping rural people on the land and improving their living conditions.

Forestry will have to take much more seriously the need to establish more national parks and other protected areas, and above all to bring them under effective management. This is important not only because these areas, almost completely untapped, are acquiring increasing scientific, recreational and economic value, but also because if all other measures for preventing destruction of the forest resources fail, they will be the only natural forests left.

Control of desertification and watershed management, two areas in which little has been achieved so far, will acquire increasing importance.

Forest industry will continue along its present lines, but two more or less new branches will probably emerge: small local industries, using appropriate technology, to meet local demands and also, through adequate storage, to supply external markets; and the wood-chemical industries. There should be an enormous development of the latter as a result of the energy crisis, based on sources of raw material such as quick-growing plantations or, in the humid tropics, secondary natural forests, waste from the mechanical wood industry, and possibly the primary natural forests (although this might seriously endanger their survival). Moreover, chemical industries based on biomass can provide alcohol, plastic, animal feed and many other types of chemical substances.

Wildlife management, which has lost so much status among foresters that they have practically nothing to do with it even though wildlife is a forest resource, must be restored to its rightful importance. This is primarily because of the contribution that wildlife makes to the food supply of the rural poor in areas under forest administration. Secondly, it constitutes a genetic resource of great scientific value. And finally, it is a source of recreation and the mainstay of the tourist industry in many countries.

The explosive growth in urban areas will lead to the consolidation of a relatively new aspect of forestry. The inhabitants of the big cities, in particular the poor, know "nature" and can enjoy it only in the urban parks or in the patches of woodland that survive or are planted there. There are already millions of people who depend on urban forestry to satisfy many of their needs and desires. This is obviously a branch of forestry substantially different from all the others.

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The rediscovery of agroforestry and the new prospects it affords mean that this is another subject area to be taken into account in the near future, in particular, although not exclusively, in the developing countries.

Finally, mention must be made of the growing need to manage and utilize the forest gene resources both to increase the productivity of plantations and to serve agriculture. In this connection, in situ conservation will play an increasingly important role.

General order of priorities

The subjects covered in this article must all receive some attention by the forestry sector. However, in the light of discussions the order of priorities needs to be changed.

Political action. A top priority is that the forestry sector, at both the global and national levels, stop acting incoherently and weakly in terms of politics. It should lay down objectives, goals, strategies and tactics that will bring it closer to the society it claims to serve and enable it to suggest steps to be taken, knowing that it will be listened to and supported, and that the necessary political decisions will be taken. To do this the following are possible:

· planned use of the mass media;

· recognition of, participation with and encouragement of the non-governmental organizations linked to the sector;

· inclusion of new courses and adaptation of existing ones to provide training on the use of renewable natural resources and on environmental policy; preparation of teachers in these areas for primary and secondary schools;

· inclusion of new courses or adaptation of existing ones to provide information on environmental policy to all university students, whatever courses they are following.

Few forest services and even fewer forest sectors conduct planned and sustained action to inform the public about forestry problems. There are some public relations offices, but they have almost no impact. The potential for mass communication is now so enormous that it is a real waste not to capitalize on it. So little attention is paid to this possibility that even those responsible for the information media who are attracted by the subject of forestry have come away empty-handed and with an accumulation of resentment against the forest services or other agencies in the sector whom they have approached for assistance.

There are many non-governmental organizations directly or indirectly linked to the sector. Up until now, however, the public sector's relationship with them has been more antagonistic than complementary. In addition, many professional forestry associations are very "clubby", reflecting certain conceptual defects that al ready saturate forestry education and the forestry sector they largely conduct. However, these and other non-governmental organizations, which affect public opinion and/or politicians - in the corridors, as advisers to opposition parties, or even in organizing political activities - will be the main shapers of political action in the future. Foresters must recognize and take full advantage of this new opportunity.

In various countries and in various ways, primary, secondary and university education has already been imbued with practical knowledge about the use and the global importance of the natural resources, particularly renewable ones. Thousands of teachers have been or are being prepared in these subjects in Chile and Venezuela and various secondary education courses to transmit this knowledge are being developed. Such information explains, for example, why the Peruvian sea came to lose its riches, the causes and effects of shifting cultivation in the tropical forests, soil erosion in the Andes and ways of avoiding it, etc. At university level the forestry faculties in some Peruvian universities provide a required basic course in these subjects for all students. The course is extremely successful: it has been held for ten years and is now widely imitated.

Forestry extension in rural areas. In urban areas the spread of information is necessary to create awareness and achieve appropriate political action. In rural areas awareness is also necessary but practical technical skills for managing the renewable natural resources that each rural family or group possesses are more vital. This requires forestry extension work, similar in all respects to the comparatively much more developed agricultural extension work, but nearly always relegated to the background.

Forestry extension must be a main priority in the future. It may be either under the direct responsibility of professional or technical-level foresters in the areas of major forestry importance (because they have abundant resources or because these have been destroyed), or combined with agricultural extension when forestry resources are not very significant. But it is always needed, even in areas of intensive irrigated farming. Universities and technical schools must teach extension techniques, and foresters must prepare ad hoc training programmes for agricultural extension workers. In addition to its intrinsic importance, forestry extension has enormous potential for creating jobs for professional foresters.

Training of technicians. This must be given absolute priority in Latin America and must continue to receive great attention in Africa, Asia and the rest of the world. The main recommendation is that the forest technician should complement and not compete with the professional forester. Training consequently should have a practical emphasis and be fairly short, within reason. Study programmes should be closely geared to local conditions.

Training of workers. Vocational training in both forestry and forest industries needs to be greatly reinforced in the developing countries, but particularly in Africa and Latin America. Training schools should continue to be developed and, in addition, the old procedure of "master and apprentices" institutionalized, at least in the big firms. This is particularly applicable to industries.

Training of professional foresters. Although requiring comparatively less attention, this aspect continues to be top priority for Africa, where countries must make every effort, with full international support, to establish and develop more forestry faculties or other university-level forestry education centres.

In the rest of the world the problem in the future will be of quality rather than quantity, the latter already being satisfied by existing or planned education centres. At postgraduate level each continent, region and even country should have its own graduate schools, without detriment to the necessary international exchange of experiences.

Refresher training. In comparison with other sectors, great progress in this has been made in recent decades thanks to the action of numerous international agencies and of countries themselves. However, it is still not enough, and refresher training received abroad has often been distorted by personal interests. Some officers are now overtrained for the tasks they perform while others, less influential, have not enjoyed these opportunities and yet are usually the real potential targets for such training.

Toward a more humanistic forestry

In order to carry out its many complex responsibilities, the forestry profession should acquire a series of characteristics that it has either lost or never possessed. These should mark all facets of forestry education, particularly the training of professional foresters.

Consequently, programmes of study need to be revised in order to make room for new courses or include new chapters or approaches in existing courses. Better knowledge of social circumstances in the country, particularly in rural areas, is essential if the people's interests are to be interpreted. Sociological studies should be complemented by detailed knowledge of anthropology, ethnology and even agrarian history.

But the humanistic components of the profession should not be limited to this. A moral reassessment is also necessary. Forestry and its long-term objectives constitute a kind of apostleship whose message is accepted by populations only if it is conducted wholeheartedly, forcefully and with real faith.

To serve rural development it is necessary to study and understand it. Too often foresters know nothing about agriculture, their closest and most aggressive competitor for land. This is a serious error which can be corrected only by special courses of a general nature, illustrating both the potential conflicts but above all the possibilities for integration between agriculture and forestry. Foresters must also know something about land use and rural development planning in order to be able to work in harmony with agroforestry, watershed management, management of natural forests and protected areas, and wildlife management. The forestry contribution to community development, through plantations for fuelwood or fodder, agroforestry, or the management of secondary forests on fallow land, plays a particular role in this long line of actions.

Forest economics must incorporate long-range planning. Economics with a capital E must be developed and taught, not just conventional economics which, with a clear conscience, rejects as " uneconomic" so many really important projects only because it is unable or unwilling to evaluate the services they provide. Economics must evaluate forest resources for what they are and not keep trying to force them to conform with rules made for a consumer society which, at least in its present version, will probably be unable to continue in existence.

Foresters must learn more about planning as a tool for integrated rural development, the management of forests and natural areas, and conservation of the sector's resources. Land-use planning is a very suitable sphere for intervention by foresters.

Giving forestry a more human face is a task which university education must take on, particularly at undergraduate level; it must be included in the programme of studies of the aspiring ingenieros or, in the British system, of the B.Sc. students. This can undoubtedly be done without increasing the total number of courses or of class hours, or reducing field work - all of which are undesirable. There will obviously be fewer hours of lectures in traditional courses, but specialists must be trained afterwards, at postgraduate level.

The scientific and technological challenge will be taken up in advanced degree courses. It is at this level that emphasis will be put on the necessary measures to direct, for example, the new chemical processing industries or to manage natural forests, soils, wildlife or protected areas. It is also where people will continue to be trained to make better use of forest gene resources to increase the productivity of plantations.


This article may be interpreted as an unfair criticism of the role of education within the forestry sector. However, it is not enough to be content with the progress achieved. It is our responsibility to be critical and to reflect, as well as to plan ahead. Successes must be put aside in order to think about what has not yet been done and what could be done better.

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