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.
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 smart phone, 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 ten 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 over 1,100 members from 94 countries. The project is co-managed by IIED, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, 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. 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 are truly paving the way for young foresters at Congress with the exciting youth speakers, targeted events and even this very competition.
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.
Blogpost and picture submitted by Geraldine Warren (International Institute for Environment and Development – IIED, UK) – geraldine.warren(at)iied.org
The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.
This post is published as entry #54 of our #Forests2015 blog competition. It is submitted in the “Youth” category.
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