Extension, farmer-field-school approaches and peer-to-peer exchanges can strengthen local capacities and innovation
Contemporary approaches to forest education include extension, farmer-field-school approaches, peer-to-peer exchanges and business incubation505,531 to provide smallholders, local forest-based businesses, local communities, Indigenous Peoples and forest workers with learning opportunities and access to technical support.506,507,508 In many countries, however, forestry extension services have been weakened due to financial, political and structural constraints. Existing extension and development programmes are often rooted in technocentric approaches focused on pre-selected “best practices” that treat forest communities as passive learners. They also rarely involve farmers and local knowledge-holders in training development and thus inadequately address knowledge needs and gaps.
There are opportunities to shift this paradigm, strengthen forest knowledge and innovation, and increase the role of farmers and Indigenous Peoples in sustainable forestry, the integration of trees in agriculture and related value-chain and business development.509,510 For this to succeed, investment is needed to bring back forest extension programmes that use people-centred approaches and aim to co-produce knowledge and develop soft skills,511,512 such as through farmer field schools (Box 35).513 Learning-by-doing approaches in community-based forestry also show promise, such as in Brazil514 and Indonesia.515
Box 35 Farmer field schools in forestry
For more than 30 years, farmer field schools (FFSs) have helped rural communities and smallholders innovate and build technical and social skills through participatory knowledge exchange.551 FFSs use people-centred learning and participatory methods, including practical field exercises. Over 20 million farmers from 119 countries have graduated from FFSs since 1989.516 A 2020–2021 stocktake of FFSs in forestry and agroforestry identified 15 major programmes across the tropics with over 200 000 graduates (FAO will publish the results of the stocktake in 2022). Common themes included integrated pest management in coffee, cocoa, citrus, mango and other fruit trees, plantation management, the use of trees in soil conservation, pastoral and rangeland management, timber and woodfuel production, and watershed and landscape management.
Drawing on the concept of FFSs, the farm business school (FBS) approach was developed to assist smallholder farmers to strengthen their business operations. An estimated 400 000 farmers (20–40 percent of whom are women) have been trained to date. FBSs, farmer marketing schools and related approaches continue to grow worldwide, with implementation in (for example) Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, where the business and entrepreneurial skills of about 10 500 smallholders have been improved.517
Many smallholders, local communities, Indigenous Peoples and their organizations would benefit from additional support to innovate and gain greater access to value chains and markets, including through the use of digital tools, cooperation and public–private partnerships. Market closures and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated the importance of digital tools and online marketing for rural producers.518,519 With adequate support, such as capacity development in financial and organizational management, marketing and design, conducive procurement policies, and access to certification schemes and new markets, small farmers and producers can gain the skills, knowledge and means needed to overcome market barriers and establish profitable businesses and sustainable livelihoods. Public–private partnerships have demonstrated positive impacts in timber and non-timber forest production, forest conservation and reducing deforestation (see examples in Box 9).
Approaches that combine traditional and scientific knowledge and new technologies show promise, but challenges remain
Many projects that combine traditional and scientific knowledge and new technologies have enjoyed considerable success (e.g. Box 36). Nevertheless, challenges remain in bridging scientific and traditional knowledge systems, such as a lack of tools and approaches for engaging knowledge-holders and that reflect divergent worldviews, identities, practices, ethics and asymmetries of power and rights.520 A recent report mapping eight Indigenous Peoples’ food systems, including in forested landscapes, noted a total absence of educational programmes that integrated and built on indigenous values, beliefs and traditions in all studied sites.521 Box 37 shows that considerable work is needed to develop approaches that incorporate traditional knowledge into formal and informal forest education.
Box 36 Revitalizing traditional knowledge for managing wildfires in Australia
Australian savannah landscapes have been actively managed for tens of thousands of years by Indigenous Peoples applying customary burning practices. The aim of the West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement project, which was initiated in 2006 and spanned more than 28 000 km2 of indigenous-managed land, was to reinstate such customary fire management to abate wildfires. The project implemented an early-dry-season management programme that combines customary practice with contemporary tools such as aerial ignition, geographic information systems and remote-sensing technologies.522 Over the first seven years of implementation, the project reduced emissions of accountable greenhouse gases (methane and nitrous oxide) by 37.7 percent relative to the pre-project ten-year emissions baseline.523 As of early 2020, there were 76 registered savannah-burning projects, including 26 on indigenous lands.524 The feasibility of adapting this emissions abatement methodology has been tested in fire-prone southern African savannahs in Botswana and Mozambique, with promising results.525
Box 37 Revitalizing forest education
A global assessment of the status and needs of formal forest education undertaken by FAO, the International Union of Forest Research Organizations and the International Tropical Timber Organization in 2019–2021 found that forest education is often too narrowly focused and under-resourced and that forestry graduates are insufficiently prepared for contemporary workplaces.526,527 The assessment identified an urgent global need to increase interest among young people to pursue forest education and careers, rebrand and revamp forest curricula, incorporate digital communication and information technologies, promote traditional forest-related knowledge systems, and prepare students for jobs in the green economy.
Building “future-fit” green economies based on forests and trees requires innovative ways of co-creating knowledge and innovation. This means connecting traditional and local knowledge and experience fruitfully with scientific and technical knowledge emerging in other contexts. Forest education systems and institutions can help raise awareness of the need to respect intellectual property rights when collecting, documenting and sharing traditional knowledge and empower communities to preserve and protect their own knowledge. They must also promote the intergenerational transmission of knowledge from elders to youth and recognize women as key repositories of many types of traditional knowledge.528,529
Supportive policies are needed to enable forest curricula development based on solid partnerships, participatory processes and ethical engagement with traditional knowledge-holders and institutions. Forest education at all levels must be culturally and ecologically relevant to the needs of the people concerned to diminish the disconnection between the acquiring of knowledge and its local-level application.