Nurturing the next generation of foresters

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24 August 2015

IIED's Geraldine Warren has joined the social reporting team for the World Forestry Congress in Durban. Her first blog looks at the importance of including young people in efforts to conserve forests.

Trees at Oxford Botanical Gardens. The question is not how to engage young people in forestry issues, but how to harness that engagement (Photo: Geraldine Warren/IIED)

Forests offer solutions to some of the biggest threats facing our planet – climate change, food insecurity, economic and social inequality.

Forests really can be the future and that is why it is crucial that young people are involved in decisions about how forests are managed and used. A common question in the forest community is: how can we engage these young people?

Simple answer: you don't need to – young people are already engaged. They are passionate about their planet, aware of the issues confronting it and keen to utilise the potential it offers.

Young people understand that, more than ever, forests need guardians. Someone to implement good governance and natural resource management, to innovate and utilise technologies and to maintain the ever increasing demands on landscapes. Therefore we must ensure the next generation of forest users and decision-makers are informed and enthusiastic about taking up the baton.

Forestry by smartphone

In January, during a field trip to a forest growers' group in Phu Thinh Commune, Yen Bai province, Vietnam, I saw first hand young people seizing the opportunity to work with the forests by becoming cooperative members.

The manager was only 30 years old. The young members were benefiting from the experience of their elders, but in return they had introduced the older members to the advantages of technology. Up on this remote hillside, everyone had a smartphone, giving them access to market information which had previously not been possible.

Often the real challenge is not in getting young people involved, but in ensuring they are given opportunities to harness this energy and truly contribute.

One way of allowing young people to have a voice is by creating platforms where they can not only grow and learn, but also make an impact.

The Forest Governance Learning Group (FGLG) is an informal alliance of 10 in-country partners, coordinated by IIED and established in 2004, which aims to improve the governance of forest resources through collaboration and learning.

One of these groups, FGLG Indonesia, started as a group of young concerned foresters and has become a multi-stakeholder forum in the Indonesian forestry sector. The group uses an alumni system to ensure members who progress professionally remain connected, helping to build a network to support both FGLG Indonesia and also the next generation of the country's foresters.

Creating spaces where connections can be made and ideas shared has never been easier. Social media breaks geographical barriers and also allows an open forum where anyone can contribute regardless of their formal experience or age.

Forest Connect, for example, supports locally-controlled forest enterprises and connects through a web-based network of more than 1,100 members from 94 countries. The project is co-managed by IIED, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC), and seeks to reduce poverty and protect forests by better linking locally-controlled forest and farm enterprises.

Opening up the conversation

Although not exclusively aimed at young people, foresters of any age can join in wherever they are in the world and whatever their current role. Opening up the conversation allows the foresters of tomorrow to speak and have their voices heard.

I propose that rather than ask how we can engage young people, the forestry community needs to explore how we can best support and nurture those who are already engaged. I have shared some approaches IIED and our partners have taken, and I am pleased to see the World Forestry Congress Youth Team is truly paving the way for young foresters at congress with the exciting youth speakers, targeted events and even the #Forests2015 blog competition, for which this blog was submitted in the "youth" category.

With the wealth of leading forestry organisations and experts coming together in Durban, let's use the opportunity to build on these successes and bring fresh ideas to ensure the next generation of foresters makes best use of their legacy.

Geraldine Warren (geraldine.warren@iied.org) is coordinator (forest team) in IIED's Natural Resources Group. This blog was orginally posted as entry 54 in the #Forests2015 blog competition being managed by social reporters from the XiV World Forestry Congress.

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