Through forest research and education towards harmony between humankind and forests

A. P. Petrov 1


The paper provides a general outline of the relations between humankind and forests at various stages of human civilization, and defines the role of forest research and education in the development of these relations. Based on the principles of sustainable development, globalization of forest policies has created an environment for the integration of forest research, and new arrangements of knowledge dissemination through education and training programmes.

The paper reviews the lessons learnt by some European countries in designing and implementing interdisciplinary forest training programmes, and shows the effects of such programmes. It also demonstrates the particular importance of interdisciplinary training programmes aimed at "greening" forest policies in transition countries. It is suggested that forest research and education be regarded as high priorities under forest policies that are to be supported by governments through ad hoc national and international funds.

For the purposes of forest education globalization, it would be expedient to design module-based training programmes through a system of international partnerships among research and education organizations, and to provide training aids (manuals, textbooks, etc.) including electronic versions for distance learning.

Module-based training programmes should be country-specific to take into account the peculiarities of the education systems, the objectives and goals of forest policies, the public traditions and the social and economic welfare of different population groups.

In this way, forest education and information dissemination would provide motives for both the general public and individuals to satisfy their economic, social and cultural/spiritual needs for forest products and services, and at the same time, to safeguard harmony with the forest and the natural environment.


Relations between people and forests have changed over time during the development of human civilization.

At the very dawn of our civilization, people perceived the surrounding forest as their home as it was their dwelling and the only source of food and clothing. This accounts for the feelings of awe and piety towards forests, and for their deification which is reflected in heathen cults that worship trees or wooden idols.

The development of agriculture and cattle-breeding replaced the gifts of the forest with other food, clothing and footwear, which resulted in a change in our attitude towards forests. The previous harmonious relationship gave way to an attitude of consumption based on the effort to derive as many benefits as possible from the forest, including the conversion of forest lands into agricultural lands, and deforestation for purposes of constructing and heating wooden houses.

People continued to utilize forests in a predatory and destructive manner without any thought for the future -until they became aware that in spite of the forest's capacity for natural self-regeneration, they might be depleted and disappear, taking away people's traditional ways of meeting their needs. This awareness first emerged in the densely populated countries of Central Europe. It was in this part of the world that forest science and education originated in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to offer new forms of relationship with the forest based on analysing the experience gained (the theory of continuous sustained yield).

It should be noted that in the earliest stages of its development, forest science was environmentally focused, its education was based in silviculture, and the students were from the elite. Later on, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, both forest research and forest education shifted their emphasis.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, the high demographic growth rates and scientific discoveries of possibilities for chemical and chemical/mechanical wood-processing turned timber into a most valuable natural resource raising the economic welfare of countries that possessed abundant forest resources.

This led forest research to shift its focus towards technical and technological problems, and drastically broaden the scope of commercial applied research and development. Forest education became polytechnic in essence and mass in scale, driven by the need to train engineering personnel.

In the second part of the twentieth century, the economic prosperity of North American and Scandinavian countries (where the forest sector plays a significant role in the national economies) included significant achievements in forest research and education, such as the development of recycling technologies in wood utilization to use all the biomass of growing trees.

These developments preconditioned industrial use of all accessible forest resources, including those of boreal and tropical forests which ultimately led to substantial loss of forests, and the dwindling of the green cover of the Earth.

In the late twentieth century, humankind again became aware of the most dangerous consequences of industrial deforestation. But this time, it was global awareness that occurred because of the emergence and development of environmental sciences and nature conservation movements in different parts of the world.


The need to bring harmony into relations between Humankind and Nature, between People and Forests as a biological community, is no longer a national problem - it has acquired the importance of a global challenge, with global implications. The new approach to natural resource use, known as "sustainable development," has been reflected in resolutions and other documents from international fora such as the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro (UNCED), the similar Conference in Johannesburg in 2002, regional intergovernmental conferences (the Helsinki and Montreal Processes, etc.), and various non-governmental organization fora.

The implementation of high-level decisions shows that the most difficult and important part is to convey these decisions to forest users, businessmen, other forest stakeholders, and finally to ordinary citizens who prefer recreation in forests to other types of recreation. It is clear that harmonious relations between Humankind and Forests cannot be established without involving the decision-makers in charge of forest use and renewal, and the users of forest benefits. Such relations cannot be established by governmental decrees, but they may be accomplished through altering the motivation of certain groups of people who are united by common interests.

It is an axiom that the behaviour of both individuals and groups, depends to a great extent, upon their levels of education and information. To satisfy the knowledge and information needs of various population groups, the contents and methods of forest education and training should be different to those previously used, as described above. Forest research and education should become multifaceted and multidisciplinary. Only in this way will people be capable of answering the question: "How can we strike and maintain a balance between economic, environmental and social goals of forest management at the levels of a country, a private forest holding, and a land area covered by a growing forest?" Only when this question is answered, may we assert that harmony between Humankind and Forests is at hand.

In this way, it would become possible to implement the global philosophy of sustainable development as applied to the world economy.

The experience of the last ten years shows that each country is free to choose its forest research and education strategy, but at the same time, many trends in forest research have already become international. This helps to avoid possible mistakes, to speed up the learning process, and to raise the cost-efficiency of research outputs.

The process of forest research internationalization started more than 100 years ago with the establishment of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO). Currently, IUFRO unites over 800 forest research organizations from 130 countries.

The global approach to forest research organization is demonstrated by countries that have tropical forests where the forest is the main source of people life. (See, for example, the Center for International Forestry Research [CIFOR], the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry [ICRAF], the new Global Forum on Agricultural Research and its regional fora). At the international level there has been a drive to build a solid institutional framework and establish guidelines for forest-sector-based development in all countries that deal with forests directly or indirectly.

For this purpose, under the auspices of the UN Forum on Forest (UNFF), the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests and the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IPF/IFF) drew up a set of proposals for action. In this, establishment, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of National Forest Programmes (NFPs) are strongly recommended for all countries as a framework for promoting sustainable forest management.

A number of organizations acting in forest sector development in different parts of the world, including major international organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and the World Bank, as well as major bilateral donor agencies, have spent some ten years in designing NFPs where research and education are to play the key role.

Today, NFPs are recognized as the major coordinating policy development framework to promote sustainable management and conservation of forests, under the auspices of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. One of the main principles of the NFP processes is to contribute not only to the forestry sector, but also to the overall sustainable development strategies.

A cross-sectoral approach is considered a fundamental basis to develop linkages between forest policy, research and education. This is related to the lack of international coordination in developing forest research and academic education at the global and regional levels.

Effective integration arrangements for forest research and education were put in place in Europe. Ten years ago, the European Forest Institute (EFI) was established, which brings together 140 research organizations from 37 countries.

The European model of forest research integration has the following merits:

The activities of EFI may be regarded as a good way to answer the challenge of our time through integrated forest research and by setting up an information base to harmonize relations between people and forests.

I have dedicated all my work to forest education management and development and, unfortunately, I have to say that there is a definite gap between the generation of scientific information and its use for training purposes. Forest education is more conservative in terms of its organization, and therefore, it lags behind the political, ecological and economic changes in the world, and fails to accommodate them in a timely and appropriate manner through reforming the training methods and processes, and through introducing new institutional arrangements.

In the ever-changing world, education aims to satisfy the needs for information, professional knowledge and expertise for as many social groups as possible and as quickly as possible. In a democracy, only a well-educated and informed society is able to produce policy-makers who regard harmony between people and forests as a priority for sustainable development. In this respect, best practices may be found in a number of countries that give high priority to their extension services, using them as tools to improve public relations in the forest sector.

In Norway, as early as 1958, an extension institute was established to disseminate information and provide additional training for all stakeholder groups (the Forest Extension Service Institute). The Institute implemented additional forest training programmes that delivered 150 to 200 training courses per year, for various stakeholder groups. The training programmes and curricula, as well as the structure of the Institute itself, were regularly modified as a function of changing goals of forest development.

In Sweden, the National Board of Forestry implemented a large-scale campaign (actually, it was enormous for a country of its size) called "Greener Forests". This campaign was implemented in close cooperation with numerous partners of the National Board of Forestry, including the timber industry, associations of private forest owners and conservation groups. Training and information were offered to forest owners and all other forest stakeholders. All in all, the campaign covered over 100 000 people. It included special efforts for schools under a programme called "Forest in School," which has been implemented since 1973. In 2001 alone, 13 500 school teachers and 123 500 children were involved.

The programme was designed to provide training for all population groups and was based on internationally accepted approaches; training activities reflect such issues as wood utilization, timber growing, nature conservation and cultural heritage protection. They offer a mix of theoretical and practical training, including visits to demonstration forest sites, representing typical forest stands.

Site demonstration makes it possible to demonstrate the impact of forest management activities on the environment, on natural landscapes, and on living conditions in local communities. The experience gained testifies to increased public awareness and understanding of the sustainable development philosophy resulting from the implementation of such programmes among various groups of population.

Training projects acquired particular importance for countries in transition since they faced the challenge of exchanging their forest management systems, which had been based on the `top-down' processes of governmental planning, for market-driven systems. Major difficulties with the design and implementation of economic and institutional reforms were caused primarily by lack of managerial and technical capacity, and the resulting inability to perceive new ideas and the new philosophy of sustainable development due to lack of targeted information and professional training.

However, those countries which made education and training priorities in their forest policy have achieved significant success in their forest reforms.

The experience of Baltic countries (Latvia, Estonia) is a good example of this. In the early 1990s, they implemented large-scale training projects, and through these projects, they managed to make the forest sector really profitable, with its activities based on the principles of sustainable forest management. The same approach is currently being applied in the Russian Federation, where institutional reforms in forest management are accompanied with large-scale training projects, though with a substantial time lag compared to Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries.

The Russian Government has expressed its commitment to speeding up the process of institutional reforms in the forest sector which is, to a great extent, an output of a three-year (2000-2002) training project financed by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). The project included theoretical training and study tours to Baltic countries and Sweden for 150 forest managers and specialists from the regional forest services of the Russian Federation.

The above examples (describing the experience from Europe) convincingly illustrate how research and education can influence the implementation of forest policies aimed at sustainable forest development at the national level, with People and Forests becoming harmoniously co-existing partners.


Globalization processes are turning the economic and particularly, the environmental functions of forests into global public goods. In view of this, it would be reasonable to expect that international forest fora such as this World Forestry Congress would put forward a number of general recommendations on ways to use forest research and education as effective tools for implementing the philosophy of agreement among all countries to live on a "green planet" (unlike Venus, Mars and other planets).

1. Forest research and forest education should be regarded as high priorities under forest policies in all countries striving to ensure sustainable forest management.

2. Forest research and forest education should have sustainable public support provided through national and international funds.

3. Upon agreement among all or a number of countries, new institutions should be set up for international cooperation in forest education similar to the above-mentioned institutions for forest research cooperation and integration (IUFRO, CIFOR, ICRAF, EFI and other regional research associations). Involvement of these and other international research alliances may be the first step towards international cooperation in forest education through using them as a basis for establishing working groups on different aspects of designing and implementing educational programmes. Such working groups would consist of national experts, and their outputs would include various module-based forest training programmes with different forest stakeholders as target audience. In the process of programme development, particular attention should be paid to pre-school and school education.

4. Forest certification might become the highest priority for international cooperation in the area of forest education. National experience in implementing forest certification programmes shows that the success of these efforts is contingent on the existence of motives in most of stakeholder groups towards social support for the activities undertaken to harmonize relations between people and forests, including those that restrict forest resource use for different purposes. Forest research and education are important tools to create such motives.

5. Education/training programmes should be designed on a multidisciplinary basis implying that they should disseminate the latest knowledge in various areas of research and practice. Module-based multidisciplinary training programmes should be subject to prior assessments by experts recognized in the scientific community. In order to implement module-based training programmes at the national level, there is a need to develop teaching and learning methods for them, to supply manuals, textbooks and other training aids translated into respective national languages. As regards textbooks and training aids, emphasis should be put on electronic information that allows students to use the Internet and distance learning.

6. The contents of national training programmes designed on the basis of training modules should be country-specific, i.e. they should take into account the peculiarities of national education systems, as well as the goals and objectives of national forest policies, including such essential elements as forest ownership, forest legislation, etc.

Professional forestry education must include the following teaching areas in general:

In view of the above, each country should establish its national model of forestry profession and differentiate its training (education/extension) programmes by stakeholder group (target audience), and establish arrangements for programme delivery through:

7. Within the next 10 to 20 years, the forestry profession should be very attractive for young people and highly respected in society.

The above recommendations are aimed at enhancing the role of information and knowledge in the sustainable development of the world forest sector, provided that all countries agree to pursue a policy towards harmonizing the relations between people and forests.


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Swedish National Board of Forestry. 1999. Greener forests. 208 pp.

Krott, M., Tikkanen, I., Petrov, A.P. et al. 2000. Policies for sustainable forestry in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. Leiden. The Netherlands Koninklijke Brill AV, 284 pp.

International Labour Office. 1997. People, forests, and sustainability: Social elements of sustainable forest management in Europe. Geneva. 216 pp.

Les i obshchestvo, 2000. Moskva, VNIITslesresurs, 208 pp. (In Russian) [Forest and society].

Petrov, A.P. 1997. Gosudarstvennoye upravleniye lesnym khozyaistvom. Moskva. VNIITslesresurs, 218 pp. (In Russian) [Forest governance and management].

Petrov, A.P., Melnis, A., Taljarv, A., Nässlund, B.-Å. & Gustafson, M. 2001. Upravleniye leasmi v usloviakh rynochnoi ekomoniki (Opyt osushchestvleniya reform v Rossii I stranakh Baltii). Moskva, Pushkino, 150 pp. (In Russian) [Forest management under transition economy: Lessons learnt from reforms in Russian and Baltic countries].

1 Rector, All-Russia Institute of Continuous Education in Forestry, Institutskaya 17, Pushkino, 141200, Moscow Region, Russia. [email protected]