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The forestry sector has seen many changes in recent years, leading to a need for adapted management methods. Demands of society and markets are evolving, bioeconomy is increasingly important and new business potential and innovative possibilities are appearing. A Finnish project looked into how to support forest owners in this context.
There have been reductions in the Finnish pulp and paper industry, and an increasing demand for forest-based bioenergy, organic forest products such as mushrooms and berries and recreational services.
Marko Mäki-Hakola from the Central union of agricultural producers and forest owners (MTK) said that these changes mean that forest owners do not necessarily have access to the management methods for dealing with this new range of activities. He also explained that forest owners may be less inclined these days to actively manage their forests due to reasons such as age and health, small-scale forests and forest owners becoming less dependent on their forests for their income. Furthermore, 20% of forest owners now live in cities, and this percentage is growing as younger generations inherit their parents’ forest land and move away from rural areas. For these remote forest owners, forest management can be difficult, and their economic interest may be limited.
Members from Helsinki University, Finnish forest research institute, Finnish forestry center and Forest owners union decided there was a need to look into management methods to deal with these common issues and find ways to develop socially and economically attractive approaches to forest management.
The Finnish partners set up a European rural development funded project called ‘How to improve forestry value chains in Southern and Central Ostrobothnia (MERSU).’
Marko said “Instead of, and in addition to, traditional methods and ways of using forests, we also wanted to find new methods to improve profitability and to guarantee acceptability. There were many knowledge gaps but also a lot of potential to develop new information and set up new cooperation and links between forest owners.”
The project focused on identifying best value chains, useful future forecasts, new products and services and support for rural development. Pilot sub-projects were set up in forest management associations involving many forest owners in order to develop methods/services to fulfill forest owners’ needs. Regional decision-makers and others involved in forest value chains were also encouraged to participate. Marko said, “New partnerships were created. These pilots were proved very successful to find innovations.”
Four specific outputs were developed:
1) Know your forest
The project produced a handbook called ‘Know the values of your forest’. It helps forest owners to find best way for them to use their forest with information on many possible options, from selling wood to forest conservation. Forest owners can use it independently or with and advisor, it guides them to think how they would like to use their forest and gives them tips to put this into action.
2) Co-operating with neighbours
The project pilots emphasised stronger cooperation with neighbours. Partnering forest owners can lead to better profitability due to economies of scale.
3) Forest guard
When forest owners live at a certain distance from the forest, a ‘remote guard’ system can be a solution. The project tested a ‘forest guard’ process where a local forest expert visited the forest plot several times per year, sending the owners pictures and situation reports. This means that the forest owner knows his/her forest and is able to make decisions even though they live far away.
4) Ecolabeled forests
Information was developed for forest owners on how to obtain eco/organic labels for their forests so that products such as blueberries and mushrooms could then be sold as such. This information is disseminated through forest management associations and the union.
The project itself has recently ended, but Marko explains “Products and services which were piloted have since been partly adopted or will be developed further. In this project we calculated the importance of value chains for the local economy. For example, the results showed the importance of wood construction and bioenergy, the project made a calculation of how to use roundwood to maximise profit for industry and local economy.”
EU forests serve a wide range of economic, social and environmental purposes and provide around three million jobs. Wood remains the main source of financial revenue and forest biomass represents the most important source of renewable energy in the EU. However, forests also provide a large range of other products, such as cork, resins, mushrooms, nuts, game or berries as well as ecosystem services which are increasingly being valued on the market.
This EIP-AGRI workshop which will be held in Vienna, Austria on 10-11 November 2016, intends to showcase innovative value chains which add value to a certain number of forest products and services with a high potential but which are currently under-used, such as wild products, resin derivates, textile fibres, recreational services, etc. Promoting such new value chains can be a powerful economic incentive for integrated forest management schemes, increasing forest multifunctionality and contributing to sustainable forest management.