Opening remarks by Minister Virolainen at the forestry in Africa Seminar

Opening remarks by Minister Virolainen at the forestry in Africa Seminar

Opening remarks by Ms Anne-Mari Virolainen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development at the Jobs, prosperity and climate action through sustainable forestry in Africa Seminar on 5 March 2019 at the Helsinki Music Centre

Distinguished participants, colleagues, friends, ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to thank WWF Finland, the Helsinki University Viikki Tropical Resources Institute and Finnfund for organizing this important and timely seminar on “Jobs, prosperity and climate action through sustainable forestry in Africa”.

I am particularly pleased to see that this event brings together representatives from the civil society, academia, government, private sector as well as investors. We need these types of multi-stakeholder partnerships to address complex and urgent issues the world faces. It is clear that we cannot meet the Agenda 2030 sustainable development goals without pooling the resources and expertise of all stakeholders.

It is a pleasure for me to make the opening remarks at this event that brings together many of the issues that are central to Finland’s development policy and for me personally, including:

  • How do we respond to climate change;

  • How can we support Africa to address its development challenges, including youth unemployment in a sustainable way;

  • How to leverage Finland’s expertise in sustainable forestry and mobilize resources from the private sector and other sources.

I would like to start by focusing on climate action and the vital role of forests in addressing climate change.

Forests are the world’s largest carbon sinks and deforestation is the second largest human-caused source of carbon emissions.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation FAO estimates that 2.5 million hectares of forests are lost in Africa every year. It means that a forest the size of Belgium is destroyed year after year. Protecting these forests would prevent some 4 million tons of CO2 emissions annually. That is almost the combined emissions of greater Helsinki in 2017.

Stopping deforestation is not enough. The IPCC says that the world needs new forests to fight climate change. A lot of them. Forest cover should increase annually by an area the size of France.

It is clear that sustainable forest management is a crucial element for implementing the Paris Agreement. We need to do a lot more to protect and increase our forests. 

Reducing CO2 emission rapidly is the most important way to fight climate change. However, forest investments are also a cost-effective way to address climate change. Let me share with you an example. External experts recently assessed the climate impact of Finnfund’s investment portfolio. They found that investments in forestry have had a nine times greater impact on climate than investments in clean energy. This striking result shows how essential forests are to our planet.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My second point is that Africa faces significant development challenges in the coming decades. The continent’s population is set to double by 2050 and reach 2.4 billion. That is comparable to the combined populations of China and India. Particularly the youth population will grow fast. This means that there is a huge demand for jobs as young people enter the labour market.

This is also a significant strain on natural resources. Africa’s growing population needs land for farming and they need wood for cooking, which will increase pressure on deforestation. It is important that we understand the value of forests properly to create an incentive to protect and manage them sustainably.

Forests are much more than just carbon sinks. They are essential for biodiversity, they prevent land erosion and help maintain water resources.

Forests can also be a significant resource for prosperity and livelihoods, particularly in rural Africa where there are few other opportunities. We need to strengthen forestry related value chains in Africa to create jobs, skills development and access to markets. We should look at ways of making the value chains more inclusive so that they provide opportunities to the youth, rural women and other marginalized groups.

At the same time, it is important that we understand the complexity of sustainable forest management and take into account local, social, economic and ecological conditions.

Dear colleagues,

This brings me to my third point, namely how to leverage Finnish expertise and resources. I can confidently say that Finland is a leading country in sustainable forestry – you could say a superpower in forestry. We have expertise in the entire forestry value chain from forest management to wood processing and manufacturing of end products. We know that sustainably managed forests are good business. Much of Finland’s prosperity is built on that expertise.

We have decades of experience in sustainable forestry in Africa through our development cooperation, Finnfund’s investments, research by Viikki Tropical Resource Institute and work of organizations such as WWF Finland. Let me provide a few examples.

In recent years, we have broadened our cooperation towards private sector initiatives. A good example is the Private Forest Programme in Tanzania that has received almost 20 million euros of funding from Finland. The programme facilitates the private sector to take its role as the engine driving the development of plantation-based forestry. The aim is to increase rural income by promoting the professional management of smallholder plantations. There is growing demand for a wide range of wood-based products in Tanzania. The programme started in 2013 and has to date established 12’000 hectares of model plantations of pine, eucalyptus and teak.

Another example is our collaboration with WWF Finland and the WWF Country Offices in Eastern Africa where we are working to reduce illegal logging and timber trade in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Our development finance institution Finnfund has invested 120 million Euros in sustainable forestry businesses, most of them in Africa, but also in Asia and Latin America. In Africa, you will struggle to find a FSC-certified forestry business, which is not financed by Finnfund.

While we are proud of our achievements is sustainable forestry, we recognize that our resources are limited. I would like to see some of the bigger players stepping up their involvement in sustainable forestry. Our eyes are on the European Commission, the World Bank, our bigger European partner countries, and some of the big private investors.

For example, the EU could consider increasing financing for afforestation, sustainable forest management and protection of natural forests, particularly in Africa as part of the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI).

We are keen to share our knowledge and expertise on sustainable forestry.

Particularly, I would like to see the private sector taking a bigger role.  We know that public funds will not be enough to meet the scale needed to meet sustainable development goals. We need private investments and sustainable businesses.

Investing in sustainable forestry in Africa is certainly not easy. The risks are high. There is plenty of uncertainty related to land rights, illegal logging and trade, and competing uses for land.

That is why we need the involvement of all stakeholders – civil society, academia, government and the private sector – to bring forwards the expertise to create the right conditions for sustainable forestry. The goal is to make sustainable forestry business interesting for private investors interested in sustainable financing.

I am confident that this seminar is an important step in this direction.

If we can protect natural forests and plant new ones, and at the same time offer people good jobs and better services, then we are onto something big.

Thank you and I am looking forward to an excellent seminar.