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FAO has marked the International Day of Forests by announcing two new forestry education initiatives that aim to raise awareness among children and young people on the sustainable use and conservation of forests

Forest AFEducating primary school students on sustainable forest use and conservation is an obvious entry point for ensuring the integrity and sustainability of forests in the long run. (Image source: Filip Stepien/Flickr)

The two projects, funded by Germany with more than US$2mn, will address major challenges in forestry education and will help increase understanding of forests among the general public.

“Education is a critical step to safeguarding natural resources for future generations. It is essential for children to learn about forests at an early age,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of FAO.

“Forests help to keep air, soil, water and people healthy. And they play a vital role in addressing some of the greatest challenges we face such as tackling climate change and ending hunger,” Graziano da Silva added.

Yet, warns FAO, despite these widely documented benefits, the integrity and sustainability of the world's forests are threatened by the cumulative effects of deforestation, land degradation and competition for alternative land use.

According to FAO, the biggest challenge is that there is a lack of understanding of the many ways in which forests give back to global society, compounded by a growing disconnect, particularly in urban areas, between people and nature.

However, at present, education about forests is often inadequate and is not able to address emerging challenges. Fewer young people study forestry at university or college, and even fewer primary and secondary schools include forest education in their changing curriculum. When forest education is offered, it often fails to take into account forests' multi-functional role.

This is why FAO and partners are working to raise awareness about issues threatening our forests and strive to support the creation of comprehensive forestry education programmes and rural vocational schools that can skill professionals to deal with the complex challenges and opportunities that the forest sector will continue to face.

Educating children on sustainable forest use

One of the projects announced on the International Day of Forests aims to increase forest literacy and the need to manage forests sustainably among children aged 9-12 in Tanzania and the Philippines.

Funded by Germany with more than US$1mn, the three-year-project will develop forest education modules based on an interactive, experiential, forest-based learning approach, and will then make these materials available for further adaptation and use around the world via a dedicated website. The materials and lessons learnt will be also disseminated during key forestry events.

In both countries, forests and woodlands are vital, especially for rural populations' food security, energy needs and livelihoods. They are also facing several challenges.

Nearly half of the population in Tanzania and one third in the Philippines are under the age of 15. Educating primary school students on sustainable forest use and conservation is an obvious entry point for ensuring the integrity and sustainability of the two country's forests in the long run.

FAO, the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and the International Union of Forest Research Organization (IUFRO) are also joining forces to conduct, together with other partners within the collaborative partnership on forests and beyond, an inventory of forest education to review the state of forest education across six regions and globally, identify forestry education challenges and gaps and develop recommendations to address these.