The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) recognized that an essential component of sustainable forestry is the commitment and genuine involvement of a broad variety of actors, including: public sector forestry services; the scientific community; private firms; local and non-governmental organizations; youth groups; unions and others. Public sector redefinition is resulting in the active or de facto transfer of responsibility and authority to private sector entities, NGOs and local organizations. While some of these trends may present challenges for sustainable forest management, they also present opportunities for improved management through capitalizing on the comparative strengths of these organizations. This shift is being manifested in various ways in different countries, such as the restructuring of the public forestry administrations of New Zealand, the United States, Canada, and Costa Rica; decentralization in Italy, Spain, Brazil and Chile; and privatization of public enterprises in many countries of Latin America, Asia and Africa.
In forestry research, emerging institutional trends are leading to modified boundaries between public and private sector activities, and better identification and definition of the roles and targets of traditional and non-traditional research organizations. This could produce innovative ways of broadening the research funding base and sharing responsibilities. Better liaison between research providers and research users, and a balance among the research organizations, could force the system to move towards a dynamic and entrepreneurial approach, thus increasing the effectiveness of the overall research system.
The recognition of the need to strengthen the global forestry research system has led to the establishment of the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) as part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) system, and the incorporation of the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) into the CGIAR. In addition, the programme of the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) - also part of the CGIAR - has been broadened to cover forest tree species. These international research centres focus on strategic research and applied research at global level. International research programmes will have limited impact, however, without appropriate participation and complementary research by national institutions, in both the public and private sectors. Apart from a few exceptions, developing countries do not have adequate capacity to participate in international research projects and to adapt and transfer results of the research to the local level. The strengthening of national research systems to link them effectively both with the international research community and with users will remain an issue of great importance for a long time to come.
The development of a multi-partner and collaborative research system will also be important in the future. New tasks and renewed functions will be ascribed to national forestry research institutions. These include: promoting partnerships and joint research activities among different types of institutions; encouraging information flow among them and with the end-users; coordinating, when necessary, the efforts of various research and education organizations with regard to their research priorities; identifying gaps in the knowledge base and proposing needed studies for inclusion in the research agenda of suitable organizations; assisting non-traditional research organizations to develop rigorous scientific methodologies; and building awareness among policy-makers of the necessity of establishing favourable legal and political conditions to promote the entry of private enterprises into the research arena.
These trends have also provoked changes in the forestry education sector. In particular, at university level, traditional curricula have been and still are being revised by many forestry faculties in order to make them more responsive to a modified environment. Revised curricula often include elements of community forestry, agroforestry, environmental studies, and sustainable development. It is clear that government service, the traditional outlet for forestry graduates, is no longer the single or even the main employer. The increased relevance of commercial organizations as employers of graduate foresters has led to the introduction of courses on economics, marketing, etc., to produce graduates more suited for profit-oriented organizations.
The 'information revolution' has modified educational methods throughout the system.
Electronic information systems have opened up new possibilities for cost-effective distance learning programmes. Forestry education may be becoming more decentralized and more attuned to the needs of individual students.
Institutional changes are also notable in forestry extension. It is well known that most rural people get information from other rural people and not necessarily from the extension service, and that the private sector is also playing an increasing role providing advice and inputs in many countries. Institutional reform is well under way in some places, where certain functions have been privatized and others are carried out by non-governmental organizations under contract to the government, or by private consultants.