Public perceptions of forestry ‘need to change’

21 July 2016

Public perceptions of forestry need to change, a World Forest Week session on forest communications heard this week on the sidelines of the 23rd Committee on Forestry. At the session, How do we lead forestry out of the woods?, founding partner and head of strategy for M&C Saatchi Abel (South Africa) Robert Grace argued that forest communications need to engage on a human level, moving away from statistics, in order to shift negative perceptions of forestry issues.

The wider public is tired of hearing the same messages and also cannot connect to messages that are too long and too complex, Grace warned. But communication has the power to change people’s perceptions about forests by talking to the real tangible value forests deliver when felled sustainably. “Forests as a library, or an apartment block, or low-cost housing is a different conversation,” Grace said, adding as another example the concept that vital medicine originates in Amazonian forests. Grace showed examples of powerful advertising campaigns and explained that forest communicators must ask if their message is relevant, original and impactful.

The leaders of the six Regional Forest Communicators Networks discussed with Grace the communications challenges unique to their regions at a panel session, which included Europeans who like wood as a material but are uncomfortable with logging, and the need to engage youth in forestry in Africa. Chair FAO Assistant Director-General, Forestry, René Castro Salazar introduced an Chair FAO Assistant Director-General, Forestry, René Castro Salazar introduced an animated video explaining the work of the Regional Forest Communications Networks, of which there are now six in five regions.

Moderated by television journalist Matt Frei (Channel 4, BBC), the session also featured a real live Roman centurion, who explained the advances made by the Romans in the field of communications, including inventing an early form of the text message. Kai Lintunen of the Finnish Forest Association and deputy leader of the FAO/UNECE Forest Communicators Network discussed the need to make forestry messages heard among the voices of other sectors.

Gaster Kiyingi Kawuubye of Tree Talk Uganda, the leader of the Africa Forest Communicators Network, explained how the creation of the network in Africa has improved communications and built capacity in the region, taking as an example communication around the XIV World Forestry Congress in Durban in 2015. “We know that foresters are not born communicators, but this needs to change so we reach the communities we’re meant to serve,” he said.

Watch a recording of the session and the video of a Tree Talk with Robert Grace, Communicating with Purpose, and view the photo gallery of the event.

For more information on the work of the Regional Forest Communicators Networks visit

last updated:  Thursday, July 21, 2016