Is there a future for the forestry workforce?
Sixty professionals from 17 industrialized countries came together in Corvallis, United States, from 4 to 8 May 1992 to discuss "The Future of the Forestry Workforce". The seminar was jointly sponsored by the College of Forestry of Oregon State University; the Joint Committee on Forest Technology, Management and Training of FAO, the Economic Commission for Europe and the International Labour Organisation (FAO/ECE/ILO); and the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations. The United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service and Extension Service provided support along with the United States Department of Labor, which provided financial support for participants from Eastern Europe.
The seminar examined common trends and issues in the North American and European regions. Two half-day excursions to forestry operations brought participants close to forest work in the Pacific northwest.
Common trends and issues
The forestry workforce is in a phase of rapid transition in almost all industrialized countries. The driving forces are major changes in the nature of forest work and the way it is carried out as well as a dwindling workforce in terms of quantity and quality. Traditional tasks in forest harvesting and silviculture are rapidly being mechanized, often with computerized high-tech equipment. Operations are carried out throughout the year by fewer, but more professional, forest workers. In addition to conventional activities, new tasks are emerging for forest workers as a result of growing public demand for recreational facilities, non-wood forest products and nature conservation.
The increasing diversity and sophistication of tasks requires a workforce with a much broader knowledge and higher skill levels than ever before. At present, the chances for such a workforce becoming available look bleak in many countries. Serious shortfalls in recruitment have arisen in terms of quantity, but even more so in terms of quality. While new entrants are hard to come by, the existing workforce suffers from high turnover and early retirement because of occupational health problems. In the absence of coordination and workforce planning, these developments could call into question our ability to maintain, manage and utilize forests.
World of forestry
There were discernible regional concerns at the seminar. The northern European countries are emphasizing teams and teamwork approaches to work organization - building on a long, evolutionary process of human and machinery developments. Those from central Europe are trying to develop a labour force for multipurpose forestry, while East European countries are shifting institutions and organizations to market-driven economies. North America, New Zealand and Australia have contractor-based workforces that require improvements in costs and benefits.
Considerable progress has been made in tackling workforce problems through new forms of work organization; improvements in working conditions and career structures; the introduction of codes of practice and certification; projections of future workforce requirements; and active recruitment efforts.
In northern Europe, significant potential for raising productivity through improvements in work organization has been rediscovered after decades of an almost exclusive focus on mechanization. The new work organization is based on job enrichment and self-directed teams of forest workers and machine operators rotating jobs among themselves. This reduces accidents and health problems, improves job satisfaction and promises to boost productivity. Delegating technician and managerial work down to the crews provides for more scope for promotion and careers.
Training enhances this evolution by imparting a broader knowledge base. The certification of workers and the adoption of codes of practice provide explicit recognition of the professionalism of forest workers and set visible standards for techniques, working conditions and training.
Strong institutions, including effective contractor associations, are needed to extend these changes throughout the profession.
Projections of the volume and nature of future forest work have proven useful to direct adjustments. Coupled with the findings of motivation studies, they have provided the basis for active image-building and recruitment efforts, involving media packages, video clips, advertising campaigns in schools and a toll-free telephone number for inquiries. A key to achieving successful strategies and smooth adjustment in workforce development is to have clear objectives that are broadly shared by all stakeholders in the sector as well as others, such as environmental groups.
An international network on the forestry workforce
The seminar clearly evidenced the need for, and the potential benefits of, a continuing international exchange on workforce matters. Participants strongly recommended that an international network be established to foster worldwide communication and cooperation between all stakeholders in the sector, including industry, public administration, labour associations, trainers and researchers.
Such a network could address a wide range of workforce related topics through an exchange of work programmes and information on areas of interest, membership lists and addresses. In addition to a periodic newsletter, modern means of communication such as computer conferences and electronic mail could provide for a continuous flow of information. The secretariat of the FAO/ECE/ILO Committee on Forest Technology, Management and Training is exploring the possibility of creating such a network in connection with similar projects planned by the ILO. Further information on this network may be obtained from Peter Poschen, Forestry and Wood Industries Specialist, ILO, 1211 Geneva 22, Switzerland.
Proceedings of the seminar on The Future of the Forestry Workforce may be obtained by writing to John Garland, Forest Engineering Department, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331-5706, USA. Requests must be accompanied by a cheque for US$ 20, drawn on a United States bank.
African Forestry and Wildlife Commission
The Ninth Session of the African Forestry and Wildlife Commission (AFWC) was held in Kigali, Rwanda from 10 to 14 August 1992. The session was chaired by Mr F. Nzamurambaho, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Forests of Rwanda, and attended by delegations from 20 member countries and representatives or observers from five organizations.
The main topics included a review of the state of forestry and wildlife in the region; a follow-up to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED); restrictions on trade in tropical timber; women in forestry and wildlife management in Africa; and progress in Implementation of the Tropical al Forests Action Programme (TFAP) in the region.
State of forestry and wildlife
In the region In the discussion, attention focused on advances in environmental protection, the state of resources and the use of products, policy and planning initiatives and the general conditions under which forestry institutions had been operating. The negative impacts of a political climate disrupted by growing economic problems and of the implementation of severe structural adjustment policies were noted. Particular challenges continued to be faced in the areas of desertification control and wildlife conservation. The establishment of forest plantations on state lands had stagnated. At the institutional level, countries continued to labour under severe handicaps, including a shortage of human and financial resources. The AFWC reiterated the need to foster and train a new type of forester, one who is more familiar with and more open to socio-economic and financial issues and who is equipped to sustain a dialogue with people at the grassroots level as well as with high-level policy-makers. The enhancement of private sector participation was also recommended. Emphasis was laid on the need for forest inventories and data collection on all resources and products.
Follow-up to UNCED
The discussion underscored perceptions of wide divergences between the industrialized "North" and the developing countries. It was emphasized that African countries needed to be vigilant in upcoming international debates, particularly with regard to trade in tropical timber. To this end, AFWC members stressed the need for an increased African presence at international meetings and for a unified front in defense of African views. Active participation in the Commission on Sustainable Development, established by the United Nations to follow up on UNCED, was recommended. Some participants expressed concern that the agreements reached in the Rio Declaration and the forest principles should not be used to impose binding measures on producer countries during future international negotiations, particularly those concerning the International Tropical Timber Agreement.
Restrictions on trade in tropical timber
The AFWC expressed satisfaction with FAO's stance in opposing unilateral restrictions or bans on trade in tropical timber. It emphasized the need to refer, in future international meetings, to all resolutions or provisions that had emerged from previous gatherings such as the 10th World Forestry Congress, UNCED and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations. The AFWC recommended that governments quickly organize consultations aimed at producing a unified, solidly documented and decisive stand on the issue.
The AFWC recognized that, above and beyond the ongoing ecological debate, lie certain economic realities that are leading to changes in the international timber trade. In particular, reference was made to the increasing volumes of timber from stands reaching maturity in some of the temperate countries, the political will of these countries to use their own production and changing market requirements with respect to product type and quality. The AFWC recommended that its members take steps to: improve product competitiveness; develop domestic markets; develop intraregional trade; examine the possibility of a ban on log exports by the year 2000; seek new outlets for products; and consider the possibility of establishing a funding agency to support African timber exports.
Women in forestry and wildlife management
Animated discussion on this topic evidenced the need for political will on the part of all member countries to facilitate women's participation and, particularly, an expanded role for foresters in rural forestry. The overall need for education and training, especially training for women in the rural development disciplines, was stressed. The AFWC recommended that member countries continually monitor and evaluate strategies and progress in women's participation in forestry and report on this at the next session.
Implementation of the TFAP
In the discussion, about ten delegations reported on progress in their national forestry action plans and described a range of problems that had arisen. Concern was expressed about the apparent weakness in general support for the TFAP. Among the issues raised by participants was concern that: planning exercises were not always followed by funding; country capacity projects had proven useful but often required further support; donors often set numerous prerequisites of conditionalities for support; confusion or even conflicts sometimes arose between different programmes dealing with environment or natural resources; the sustainability of projects or follow-up activities after the conclusion of external support were not being adequately ensured. In this respect, although the AFWC noted the need for the support of donors and recommended the pursuit of efforts to establish a fund for the implementation of TFAP, it also stressed that countries must make serious efforts to mobilize national financial resources.
The AFWC recommended also that countries have their forestry action plans led by national institutions and that their priority programmes be determined in the context of overall national development goals and objectives. Small, community-based projects, attractive to local people, were noted as a priority area.
Copies of the report of the Ninth Session of the African Forestry and Wildlife Commission may be obtained (in English and French) from the Meetings Officer, Forestry Department, FAO, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy.