Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

The new look of African education

Laurence Roche

Laurence Roche wrote this article while Professor of Forestry and Head of the Forestry Department at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. In October he is leaving Aberdeen to become Head of the Department of Forestry and Wood Science, University College of North Wales, Bangor.

How is forestry education developing and likely to develop in African universities? Not, says the author, according to the patterns of forestry schools in developed countries. Curricula are being dictated by Africa's own social and ecological needs and realities. He describes new directions which are being taken and explains why.

Man looms large in Africa, he is at the centre of the stage, and he still has many options open to him-philosophical, ecological, social and economic. He is currently exploring these options. It is against a background of social flux, institutional innovation and development that I propose to paint with a broad brush the picture of trends and issues in forestry education in Africa as I see it from my vantage point. Emphasis, however, will be given to the role of forestry in socioeconomic development and the eco logical balance of the human environment in Africa, for it is only when this role is understood that numerical projections in forestry education in Africa become meaningful. For a rather different though complementary treatment of the subject, and a more detailed analysis of traditional forestry education, particularly in regard to student intake and the needs of industry and government agencies for professional foresters, the reader is referred to Hilmi (1971), Richardson (1969), Lafond (1969), Wyatt-Smith (1969), and FAO (1969).

Trends and issues in forestry education in Africa cannot be considered in isolation from the ecological, social and economic realities prevailing in nonindustrialized societies generally. If they could, then we might be satisfied with training graduates to spend the rest of their lives producing and processing cellulose rather than educating men and women to play a broader role in nation building.

Educating men and women to play a broader role in nation building is a fine-sounding concept, and it might be said that it is no more than that, and that it produces no cellulose, let alone carbohydrate and protein. An alternative view, however, is that such a concept is more than just fine-sounding, that on the contrary it is a practical option in forestry education in modern African states. I share this latter view.

In Only one earth: the care and maintenance of a small planet by Barbara Ward and René Dubos, a book originally commissioned by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, there is an enlightening chapter dealing with policies for growth in nonindustrialized societies. This book incorporates the views of more than 70 scientific and intellectual leaders from 58 developing and developed countries, and should be mandatory reading for all students of natural resource management. The following quotation from it is, I believe, profoundly relevant to forestry education in Africa:

Large substitutions of scarce and concentrated capital for abundant labour are economically and ecologically unsound for a variety of reasons. In the first place, the small owner, working with his own labour on a family holding, has been shown in a wide variety of developing countries - India, Brazil, Kenya, Colombia - to produce more per acre than the bigger estate. Some of the highest yields are to be found in countries where acre limitations are strictly enforced. This productivity is secured not by heavy machines which drink gasoline and can easily damage fragile soils but by hand work with light equipment which is, by definition, less prone to generate ecological risks. Fertilizers and pesticides are less lavishly used, humus and animal wastes more carefully husbanded. Greater personal care keeps terraces in trim, shade trees planted, gullies forested. And earnings are not spent, as is so often the case in semi-feudal economies, on acquiring more land for extensive use, thus pushing up land prices and driving more working farmers away from the soil. Nor are they withdrawn altogether from the rural economy by the development of "western" standards of conspicuous consumption...

The authors of the book go on to point out:

The "Green Revolution" needs to proceed within a social framework of laced reform and popular participation which provides maximum employment and the optimum distribution of gains from the new productivity. Next, its highly sophisticated methods need to he, as it were, "encased" in the context of extension services, agricultural research, farmers' training centres, adult literacy and strong supervision which, for instance, permitted Denmark in the nineteenth century to develop Europe's most productive agriculture around small farms, cooperatives and people's schools.

Next, this framework of expertise needs to be profoundly rooted in the environmental realities of local soils, climates and plant varieties and take into account all the traditional wisdom that practical farming has developed over the millennia. The kind of ecological "mix" that is required is not one that can be brought in readymade from highly mechanized temperate farm systems. It is the combination of modern science with local inventiveness and local responsibility that is ultimately at the core of the only really effective and sustainable ecological balance...

If a graduate in forestry in Africa is nothing more than a producer and processor of cellulose, then, of course, his role in relation to the socioeconomic development of his country is severely limited. The fact is that however misdirected his education, and however unrelated it may be to the ecological, social and economic realities of the land in which he lives, these realities propel him on graduation into a wide spectrum of tasks related to natural resource management rather than forestry in the more narrow sense.

Graduates of the Department of Forest Resources Management of the University of Ibadan, for instance, may find themselves on graduation involved in the setting up and management of game reserves; in supervising the sowing of large quantities of maize and cassava, and the subsequent harvesting, processing and marketing of these crops from departmental taungya systems; in the establishment of pulp and paper plantations in the rain forest region, or shelterbelt establishment in the savanna regions of the north. Invariably in the execution of their duties they are called upon to perform tasks to which the more traditional forms of forestry education are only marginally related, and which require for their successful completion in an African context that combination of modern science, local responsibility and local inventiveness referred to by Ward and Dubos.


The environment of the vast majority of people in African nations is still that of farm-forest, and, no matter what their duties, this is the environment in which graduates in forestry generally find themselves on leaving university. Rarely are they able to isolate themselves from the daily problems of living which beset the rural people about them.

The role that the forestry graduate can play in the development of this environment, is now evident, as the need for controlled centres of rural growth sustained by a diversity of industries based on natural resources, such as forest industries, is increasingly recognized by African governments. The growth of one or two massive urban-industrial complexes divorced from the land, its resources and its people, and sustained by an alien technology, and an alien social structure, has failed to provide a just distribution of the fruits of development in many countries of the world, including Africa (see Mabogunje, 1974, for a penetrating analysis of this problem in Nigeria), and a significant shift toward the rural economy is now evident.

The options for development are, therefore, still very much open in Africa and this fact must exert a powerful influence on forestry education in African nations.

Forestry education at a university level is a very recent innovation in Africa. It is still in its infancy, and confined to a very small number of countries. Therefore, it is not possible to examine a variety of approaches to forestry education on this continent. The Departments of Forestry now being established in Uganda, Tanzania and Zaire are still in the earliest stages of development, and with the exception of Uganda, still heavily dependent on expatriate staff, and far from accepting and implementing a preconceived philosophy of education in this field. Although an older institution, it can be said that the School of Forestry in Liberia is also in the early stages of growth and development.

The Department of Forest Resources Management at Ibadan has gone beyond the establishment phase, and is now in a vigorous phase of expansion and diversification under the impetus of a predominantly Nigerian staff, increased student enrolment, and the requirements of 14 state and federal departments of forestry. The Department is one of the three main divisions of the Faculty of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Science. A recent proposal to change the name of the Department from the original "Department of Forestry" to "Department of Forest Resources Management" has been approved by the Senate.

An open door

The Department attracts students from all over Africa, both undergraduate and postgraduate, and also from certain overseas countries. At the present time, total student registration in the Department is 93. It has 20 established senior staff positions, of which less than half concern forestry; the remainder embrace a wide spectrum of related resource management disciplines, including wildlife management, range management, and freshwater fisheries management. This number is augmented from time to time by visiting staff from other universities. There is a supporting junior and intermediate staff of 24.

For these reasons it may be of value to sketch in broad outline certain aspects of the mandate in teaching and research in the Department at Ibadan as my colleagues and I see it. It is not proposed to outline all aspects of forestry and resource management disciplines which are of concern to the Department, but to touch only on those which illustrate the potential of forestry and related disciplines as instruments for rural development and rural prosperity in Nigeria. Thus, for example, rather than discussing the well-known and vitally important problems of management of large, single-species industrial plantations of exotic trees which are being established in Nigeria and many other parts of Africa (and which are, of course, of major concern in the teaching and research programme of the Department), what will be discussed is the possibility of establishing and managing at least some of these plantations in such a way that they may have greater and more immediate relevance to the socioeconomic development and ecological balance of the human environment in Nigeria.

The establishment of large single-species plantations of exotic trees is taking place throughout Africa, and nearly always at the expense of species-rich high forest, or savanna woodlands. Usually they are established by the state within forest reserves. In the southern states of Nigeria the peasant farmer is given the opportunity to farm inside the reserve in return for clearing the logged-over, although usually still heavily wooded, forest, and planting fast-growing exotic tree species together with his own agricultural crops. After about three years, depending on the tree species used, the tree crop closes canopy, the farmer is given another area, and the cycle is repeated. In this way more than 20000 acres (8000 ha) of forest reserve land are made available each year for farming. This system is traditionally referred to as taungya, its Burmese name.

In the Southeastern State imaginative policies have led to the integration of taungya on a sustained yield basis in the management plans for large industrial pulp and paper plantations of Gmelina arborea. The work is done by departmental labour, resulting in the Forestry Division being the single largest food producer in the State.

As it is practiced in the Southeastern State, taungya can be considered a mixed cropping system with an important component of the mix being a wood-producing tree species. We are studying this system very closely at Ibadan, in cooperation with the State Forestry Division and local community leaders, with the objective of demonstrating its value to small farmers outside the reserves. At the present time there seems no reason to believe that a short-rotation (less than ten years) commercial tree crop (for wood) could not replace bush fallow outside the reserves.


Toward change

If this can be demonstrated, then the results could have far-reaching consequences in rural development. Private enterprise forestry would be introduced to the smallholder, who for historic reasons assumes that forestry is a government monopoly, and bush fallow, so wasteful of land, would be replaced by a cash crop in the form of salable wood which could provide that extra economic impetus required to lift the farmer from subsistence agriculture. The Forestry Department of Ibadan is looking into all aspects of the matter, including appropriate species mix, length of rotation of tree crop, soil fertility following cropping, socioeconomic implications, and the establishment of small-scale wood-using industries such as charcoal burning, sawmilling, etc., which could be integrated with the private woodlots.

The development of a sustained yield tropical agroecosystem (Jansen, 1973), such as that referred to here, requires above all an holistic approach that is not possible within the framework of traditional forestry practice, but which ought to be the norm in schools of forestry in nonindustrialized countries such as those of Africa. Taungya is, of course, part of the traditional forestry practice in many parts of the tropics. It was not, however, developed for the benefit of local people but for state forestry divisions seeking to establish commercial plantations at minimum cost. Little or no thought was given to the production of a sustained yield of food and wood by the working group following the establishment and harvest of the initial plantation.

Wildlife for protein

Charter (1973) has provided an analysis of statistics on the economic value of wildlife in Nigeria. The overall averages for locally produced animal food in the rural areas of southern Nigeria indicated that about 19% was obtained from wild animals, 60% from fish, and only 21% from livestock. Nationwide consumption of bushmeat was valued at 20.4 million naira (US$34 million) in one year, and all meats from domesticated animals at 26 million naira ($43.3 million). The highest percentages of bushmeat consumption relate to areas in or near forest reserves (e.g. Benin 82%, Uyo 84%, Calabar 80% and Ondo 67%).

There are a number of striking features about these statistics which will not be discussed here. It is perhaps sufficient to observe that if an unmanaged natural resource, which has been massively depleted, can yield the bulk of the protein consumed by large numbers of rural people, a much greater yield can be expected under management. This observation applies as well to fish resources.

The setting up of game reserves and the protection and management of game is now a major concern of the forestry divisions of each of the 12 States in Nigeria, and it seems certain that Nigeria's wildlife heritage will be conserved and managed for all time. One question that concerns us at Ibadan is: conserved for whom? Thus, although the Department is involved in most aspects of wildlife conservation and management, it is particularly interested in those aspects which relate to rural development, such as the domestication of small mammals already widely utilized for food in rural areas, and cropping in game reserves for the benefit of local people.

A study of food balance sheets for many nonindustrialized countries would indicate that the quantity and quality of food available for consumption are far below that necessary for good health. Yet it is also a common observation that the people in many of these countries, particularly in West Africa, do not appear to be suffering from hunger and malnutrition (Nicol, 1972). The fact is that the natural bounty of forests, woodlands, lakes and rivers, where these exist, supplies a massive amount of protein and carbohydrate unrecorded in these food balance sheets, and generally neglected in plans for increased food production in the tropics.

A little of this has been touched upon in discussing wildlife as a source of protein, but there is also a casual and daily harvest of fruits, nuts, leaves, twigs and bark, which are common ingredients in a variety of traditional dishes in Africa. Anyone who has lived in Nigeria will have observed this.


It is against this background that the Department at Ibadan is now initiating genecological studies of food-producing trees in Nigeria. Okafor (1974), a pioneer in this field in Nigeria, has pointed out the great importance in the diet of rural peoples of the fruits and seeds of such tree species as Chrysophyllum albidum, Dacryodes edulis, Irvingia gabonensis, Pentaclethra macrophylla and Treculia africana, and has observed that their large-scale production will certainly enhance food production in the country. These studies will eventually be extended to food-producing trees of the drier northern savanna regions, e.g., Butyrospermum parkii, Parkia clappertoniana, and to other trees which are sources of commercial products of importance in the rural economy of the north.

The object of these studies is to provide essential information concerning their distribution, their vegetative and reproductive cycles, and the extent of genetic variation within the species, which is a prerequisite to domestication.

These, then, are examples of the Department's teaching and research programme, taken to illustrate the manner in which some of the precepts touched on in this paper may be put into practice. It is stressed, however, that they are but aspects of the Department's programme, which embraces a spectrum of forestry and related renewable resource disciplines too wide for discussion here.

It is obvious that the development of a teaching and research programme in renewable natural resources management that would effectively embrace such activities as those outlined here requires a four-year degree programme, and not three as is currently the case at Ibadan. In the fourth year a combination of courses can be offered for each of the major resource management disciplines for which the Department has professional competence. Discussion on this matter was initiated by Wyatt-Smith (1966). It is now well advanced, and a four-year degree programme will be introduced at Ibadan in the near future.

Basic needs

This article has been concerned with trends and issues in forestry education in Africa rather than forestry education per se. Therefore, some major aspects of forestry education have not been dealt with. It must be emphasized, however, that sophisticated expertise in all aspects of silviculture and management of large industrial plantations, in the management of remnants of natural forest ecosystems, in wood utilization, forest economics and forest engineering will be required to an increasing degree in Africa. The major thrust of a university's teaching and research programme in these fields must be to provide this expertise.

The University of Ibadan has an Institute of Applied Science and Technology which offers degrees in wood engineering and forest engineering. These require a strong background in mathematics and the physical sciences. The Department of Forest Resources

Management is therefore able to concentrate, on the one hand, on those subjects (e.g., wood anatomy) which relate to wood as a product of industrial biology, that is, influenced by breeding, site treatment, spacing and provenance, and on the other on those subjects that relate to sustained yield and the stability of the ecosystem, natural or man-made.

This division of effort is desirable where possible in Africa, as wood engineering and forest engineering are seen to fall more appropriately within the ambit of an engineering curriculum than one concerned with forestry and related renewable natural resource disciplines. This, of course, does not mean the exclusion from the Forestry Department's curriculum of those subjects in wood science and forest operations which occupy a zone between the biological sciences on the one hand and the physical on the other, and which have been mentioned in the last paragraph.

Highly efficient and competitive forest industries can and will be established in African nations. Furthermore, they can be established without neglecting the profoundly important aspects of forestry touched on in this paper, which relate so directly to the socioeconomic and ecological realities of African nations and to the professional calibre and social awareness of the young men and women who graduate in this field from African universities.


BILLAZ, R.1974, Mandarin research. Ceres, 37 1974 (1):34-37.

BLACK, J.N. 1964, Prologomenon to the study of natural resources. Inaugural lecture No. 1. University of Edinburgh October 1964.

CHARTER, J.R. 1973, The economic value of wild life in Nigeria. Ibadan, Federal Department of Forest Research. Research Paper No. 19. 11 p.

FAO. 1969, Needs and problems of forestry education in Africa. Document, second session of the African Forestry Commission, Come, Togo.

HARLEY, J.L. 1971, The quality of forestry education: innovation in attitudes, organization and methods. Document, FAO World Consultation on Forestry Education and Training, Stockholm.

HILMI, H.A. 1971, Forestry education and training in Africa. Document, FAO World Consultation on Forestry Education and Training, Stockholm.

JANSEN, D.H. 1973, Tropical agroecosystems. Science, 182:1212-1219.

LAFOND, A. 1969, Forestry education in Africa: future needs of forestry and forest industries. Document, FAO Seminar on Forestry Education and Training Development in Tropical Africa, Accra, Ghana.

MABOGUNJE, A.L. 1974, Cities and social order. Inaugural lecture. University of Ibadan. (In press)

McNAMARA, R.S. 1974, Feasible goal. Ceres, 37(1):19.

NICOL, B.M. 1972, Food from the forest. In Guinean zone: Report of FAO Conference on the Establishment of Cooperative Agriculture Research Programmes between Countries with Similar Ecological Conditions in Africa. 293 p.

OKAFOR, J.C. 1974, A genecological study of some food producing trees in Nigeria. Ibadan, Department of Forestry, University of Ibadan. (Unpublished manuscript)

RICHARDSON, S.D. 1969, Training for forest industries and timber marketing. Document, fourth session, FAO Advisory Committee on Forestry Education, Ibadan, Nigeria.

SCIENCE COUNCIL OF CANADA. 1973, A national statement by the Schools of Forestry in Canada. Ottawa.

SPURR, S.H. 1971, The forester's role in the face of social and economic change. Document, FAO World Consultation on Forestry Education and Training, Stockholm.

VELAY, L. 1971, The goals of university level forestry education, its scope and its place in the general educational system. FAO World Consultation on Forestry Education and Training. Stockholm.

WARD, B. & DUBOS, R. 1972, Only one earth: the care and maintenance of a small planet. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Pelican Books. England.

WESTOBY, J.C. 1968, Changing objectives of forest management. Document, Ninth Commonwealth Forestry Conference, India. 16 p.

WESTOBY, J.C. 1971, Forestry education: to whom and for what? Document FAO World Consultation on Forestry Education and Training, Stockholm.

WYATT-SMITH, J. 1966, Some problems of forestry education at the professional level in developing countries with particular reference to the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Rome, FAO

WYATT-SMITH, J. 1969, Some views and problems on training requirements for forestry in tropical Africa. Document, FAO Seminar on Forestry Education and Training Development in Tropical Africa, Accra, Ghana.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page