Finland’s development forest policy was updated – the direction is right

The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs published its new Forest Policy that aims at taking into better consideration the rights of local people. In terms of coherence in development policy, this is a step to the right direction.


It was about time to renew the former policy paper from 2009 to correspond the principles of Finland’s Development Policy Programme. The previous Minister of Development Mr Paavo Väyrynen, concentrated strongly on exporting Finnish forestry know-how. The current Minister Heidi Hautala puts special value to human rights based approach to development, meaning e.g. the realization of land rights. At the publication seminar Hautala emphasized the meaning of healthy forests in terms of watershed management, energy and food security.

Already the almost doubled length of the paper hopefully foreshadows a more serious attitude towards the actual effectiveness of our national forest cooperation in partner countries. The rights of locals to their own natural resources and the openness and democracy of decision-making are subjects formerly overlooked because of economic ambitions of ‘sustainable forest management’. Exporting Finnish forestry know-how is far from development cooperation, which should benefit first and foremost the people who are poorest and most dependent on forest resources.

Sustainable natural resource management and developing good governance are terms that the Forest Policy keeps repeating. Having followed local environmental administration work in the South I was left to wonder, how good governance can be realized and assured also on a local and regional level; or how can Finland contribute to that? Only crumbles of the economic assets received by the state might end up in the places where they are most needed – where the people and forests are.

How does the policy look like from the point of view of Finnish Association for Nature Conservation?

In terms of Project Manondroala the new policy seems a lot better than its predecessor, although its effects on our day-to-day work still remain unclear. However, our project that focuses on forest mapping, restoration and increasing open forest knowledge and know-how, seems to fit perfectly into Finland’s official objectives. The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs should be proud of the important work done by NGOs with such incredibly small resources.

Hautala aligns in her foreword that Finland has “a lot to offer for example in developing forest inventory work and functional monitoring and information systems”, which is directly what FANC is working on with its Malagasy partners. Our project also follows well the special targets of the European Union (EU) – decreasing of illegal logging and preventing forest loss in developing countries – and the global UN targets for forest cooperation, which include e.g. turning the forest loss into forest growth and improving the income of people who rely on forests.

The forest monitoring method developed as part of the Project is an inspirational example of versatile NGO expertise that can induce real change. The importance of forest mapping and open information sharing is also highlighted in the Forest Policy on many occasions.

What about the resources available for non-governmental organizations?

According to the Forest Policy, both NGOs and multilateral channels (such as FAO and World Bank) will be in the centre of forest cooperation in the future, as is also stated in the government programme. It is however unbearable if these funds are taken away from other development cooperation. How can the financing for forest cooperation thus increase in the coming years while the general NGO development assistance has been decided to freeze onto the level of 2012? Is it possible that funding directed to forest cooperation might be taken away from children’s education or health projects?

In her comment speech the executive director of Siemenpuu Foundation – that collaborates with civil society movements in the global South – Hanna Matinpuro, was pleased about the Policy paper’s emphasis on human rights, but wondered about the coherence of development policy in relation to e.g. climate (REDD+) and trade policies. She also hoped for more open discourse between the government and the civil society, which would help the realization of justice.

According to Minister Hautala the coherence is increased by e.g. working in closer cooperation with Europe and Trade Minister Alexander Stubb, as well as strengthening the Aid for Trade. Hautala said that NGOs are “the best critics, best sparring partners, and thus best partners (for the government)”. I hope that this utterance will not be forgotten in the implementation of Finnish development policy.

– Titta Lassila, the coordinator of project Manondroala, FANC

This text was originally published in Finnish in the FANC Blog on August 22, 2013.

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