The Future of IUFRO: Having Confidence in Our Own Ingenuity

Jeffery Burley served as president of IUFRO from 1995 to 2000.

SP-15: Historical Responses of Research to Global Forestry Issues


A panel that included four past presidents of IUFRO met to discuss responses to major forestry challenges over the past quarter century.

Juergen Blaser, professor for International Forestry at the University of Bern, provided the keynote address of the sub-plenary and gave a narrative tracing global forest challenges over the past quarter century. Blaser’s narrative provided the backdrop against which the four past presidents discussed the challenges they had faced during their tenures.

“The environment at the end of the 1980s was quite different than it is now,” said Blaser. “We did not have organizations like CIFOR. We did not have multinational agreements. In the past 25 years we have become more global.”

“Global forest challenges that existed over the past quarter century continued from earlier periods, especially with regard to deforestation, which in the past was considered more from local and national perspectives,” he said. “Forest-related challenges exemplify those inherent in sustainable development, dealing with tradeoffs between conservation and development.”

The dramatic change in communication and information exchange played a major role in shaping the way we face those challenges, he said. “Twenty-five years ago, we didn’t have the Internet, we didn’t have emails. We barely had computers.”

According to Blaser, the global forest community has learned that forestry is as much about people as much as it is about forests and trees. “Although there was the notion of social forestry in the 1970s and 1980s, a real movement has happened over the past 20 years.”

“Social integrity—making fair and just decisions regarding the management and use of forests—is something that we didn’t deal with 25 years ago. We had fewer stakeholders back then.”

When looking toward the future, Blaser noted a few of the things that global forestry will need to address.

“Challenges are dynamic and are changing constantly in substance over time, which means that challenges need to be constantly revisited.” For example, he said, “We need to reduce legal conversion and forest land use change. And we need to control illegal deforestation and unwanted natural deforestation.”

“Strategic challenges remain as we move into the future: the tactical challenges however need to be constantly adapted. The forest policy challenges of 25 years ago remain.”

To succeed, he said, “We need to have confidence in our own ingenuity.”

Salleh Mohd. Nor was the first president of IUFRO elected outside of Europe and the United States, and led IUFRO from 1990 to 1994. He was the first of the past presidents to follow the keynote.

“Standing before you makes me feel like a mosquito landing in a nudist camp,” he joked. “Where do I start?”

“My concerns during my presidency included low prestige and support of forestry research in developing countries, lack of political support and funding, lack of qualified human resources, and inadequate research management,” he said.

Salleh identified the development of the Asia Pacific Association of Forest Research Institutions (APAFRI) and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) as high points during his tenure.

The IUFRO presidency was a wonderful part of his life and career, he said, but challenges remained. “How do we do good research with a limited amount of resources?  If you are not investing in research, you are not investing in the future of science and technology.”

Jeffery Burley served as president of IUFRO from 1995 to 2000. During his term, he emphasized maintaining continuity and on progression. Burley identified the transitional requirements for taking IUFRO deeper into the 21st century.

“We should promote multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving. We need to invite new disciplines and new institutions into the process,” he said.

“We also need to keep in mind the audience for the information we present. We should write in three styles—for our peers, for policy makers and managers, and perhaps most importantly for the media and the public.”

“We also need to pay attention to the role of the private sector, for environmental as well as economic benefits.”

Risto Seppala was president of IUFRO from 2001 to 2005. “In order to succeed, IUFRO must be useful, attractive, visible, and credible,” he said. “How do we make it that way?”

“We have all heard the phrase ‘publish or perish,’” said Seppala. “I’d like to add to the phrase ‘partner or perish.’ We need to develop linkages to those who are outside our regular circles.”

“IUFRO must continue to open up,” he said. “The forestry community is not a closed environment. We need to have increased collaboration with other organizations both inside and outside the forest research community.”

“It is important for IUFRO to have a good corporate image, even if IUFRO itself is not a corporation.  We must be organizationally strong and financially strong.”

During Seppala’s tenure, IUFRO made contributions to international and national policy processes, he said. “It is not easy to see the results in a short period of time, but we can be happy that we made the investment.”

Don Koo Lee was president of IUFRO from 2006 to 2010. The challenges during his tenure were much the same as they were in the past, he said.

His strategy was to use what he called “the five I’s.” As president-elect, he pledged to inform members about the latest news, involve members in activities related to IUFRO, ignite interest to encourage members to join activities, invite members to all meetings, and finally to increase IUFRO’s influence by providing scientific information to organizations.

Achievements during his tenure included strengthening research for the benefit of forests and people, supporting young scientists and developing countries, expanding and strengthening strategic partnerships and cooperation, and strengthening communication and links.

Written by: Peter Gomben

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