The importance of forests cannot be overstated since all life on earth, therefore our survival, depends on them.
They provide livelihoods for humans; are important habitats for animals they protect watersheds; prevent soil erosion; and help mitigate the negative impacts of climate change.
However, despite all this significance, forests are disappearing at an unprecedented scale world over! According to the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 report, in 1990 the world had 4,128 million hectares of forest but by 2015 this area decreased to 3,999 million hectares.
There are many reasons advanced including an increasing population; expansion of agriculture land; reliance on wood fuel for energy and other unsustainable land use practices. Closer home in Tanzania, the 2015 National Forest Resources Monitoring and Assessment report, estimated the annual rate of deforestation at 372,816 hectares, while by 2018 the estimates by Tanzania’s National Carbon Monitoring Centre showed an increase in the annual rate of deforestation to 469,420 hectares.
As the theme for 2019 International Day of Forests focuses on “Forests and Education”, we need to reflect on the role of forest education in addressing present and future challenges.
How for example is forest education inculcating the values, culture and responsibility among our children for caring and protecting forest resources? How relevant and adequate are the curricular at primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in addressing the current and future challenges forestry faces? Why is enrolment in the forestry profession on the decline in many countries? Many of these questions can be explored another time, but let us take aim at the young generation.
Education has long been recognized as a key means to influence the knowledge, skills and values of citizens to support sustainable development.
Providing children with a foundation to better understand the vital role of forests is a critical step to safeguarding natural resources for future generations. Raising awareness among today’s children of sustainable use and conservation will also encourage the young adults of tomorrow to make responsible decisions about the environment.
It is essential to bring forests into their lives at an early age in order to change the common misconceptions that support a strict conservation approach to forests (no take, no use). Forest education can inspire young children to learn about the importance of forests and to pursue a career in forestry; it can help them to connect with nature thus creating future generations conscious of the benefits of trees and forests and the need to manage them sustainably.
Children can discover forests in classrooms and forest schools, by spending guided time in forests and urban parks, or by learning about trees growing in cities and gardens.
In a country like Tanzania where over 40 per cent of the population is under the age of 15, educating children on the importance of sustainably managing and using forests becomes a strategic entry point for ensuring ecological integrity in the long run.
Healthy forests are central in our aspirations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
The author is the Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Tanzania.