As Africa enters the 21st century, many developmental challenges are encountered across the continent. Among them, the goal of achieving sustainable use of natural resources – especially forests – must remain in sharp focus and be addressed in a multi-prong approach. To better capture the role of forestry education and training on the continent, four key elements must be underpinned. First, the current status and future developments of the forestry profession must be placed in a historical context, traced back to early colonial influences, which, out of necessity, learnt and draw heavily on experiences from temperate region forestry. The consequence of a temperate region orientation of forestry training in Africa was a rather “narrow-scope” view of forestry adopted by colleges and universities. Arising from historical factors, the second aspect is that, with time, a largely public sector job market for which forestry education was targeted, shrunk and hence caused panic and “a diminished regard” of forestry as a profession among young potential foresters. The diminished job market in the forest sector has engendered an urgent need to re-engineer innovative means to make forestry attractive. This has called for many possible options: some forward-looking and others rather drastic. In some cases, forestry schools within countries or regions have used curriculum reforms to diversify or refocus their training programmes and, in other cases, funding to forestry education institutions has suffered major cut-backs which have seriously affected student enrolments. The dynamism between the apparent low public investment in forest education and declining numbers of students due to poor job markets creates a rather complex web making it difficult to pin-point the precise factors responsible for
and/or driving actual status and future direction of forestry education in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Thirdly, the past two decades saw a fundamental global paradigm shift in which empowerment of local populations in relation to management of natural resources – including forests – emerged as a dominant theme. Forests are seen in terms of broad multiple values and contributing directly to rural livelihood systems, and also seen as an integral component of land use and tenure regimes. It is this socio-economic mix of land resources that characterises the unique features of forestry in Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, impacts of globalisation and trade liberalisation, the existence or lack of local and international markets for forest products, poverty and impacts of the devastating HIV/AIDS pandemic, all affect management of forests and other natural resources in the African landscape. Therefore, current forestry education and training must respond sufficiently to these emerging issues – not merely in a narrow sectoral manner, but rather through an integrated training approach of natural resources management disciplines. This calls for well fashioned and innovative approaches to forestry training curricula vis-à-vis that for other land use disciplines. We must seek to ensure that training approaches used lead to adoption of technologies in the larger agricultural sector that have beneficial impacts on Africa’s rural populations – it is imperative that tertiary training institutions produce agents of this change. Until recently, forestry training has remained largely traditional but there is now evidence of change taking place within institutions. This trend would need to be advanced and aggressively pursued so that forestry education on the continent is strategically placed in terms of producing adequately trained manpower for increasingly challenging tasks towards sustainable forest management. The primary goal is having a breed of foresters with skills and positive attitudes to transform livelihoods at the farmer level. We need to move beyond impacts derived only from those associated with logging and industrial forestry (thought this is not to say we abandon this function of forestry) to enhancing positive impacts at farm level. It also means ensuring that technology transfer to farmers is made affordable and practical, hence better and closer interaction between training, research and implementation.