In Antalya to discuss the future of Mediterranean forests

In Antalya to discuss the future of Mediterranean forests

The seventh Mediterranean Forest Week (MFW) took place on 21-25 March 2022 in Antalya, Turkey and was dedicated to "Forest and ecosystem restoration for the next Mediterranean generations".

The MFW is a biennial event that aims to facilitate collaboration between forest managers and policy makers, scientific and academic community, the private sector, civil society, and NGOs. It provides a common platform for dialogue on the most important issues related to Mediterranean forests. The event is organized by the Committee on Mediterranean Forestry Questions “Silva Mediterranea”, a FAO statutory body. As of 2019, the secretariat of Silva Mediterranea is headed by Italy and carried out by CREA experts located at FAO, under the mandate of the Forestry Directorate of Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies.

The week started on the International Day of Forests with a speech by Florence Lacrosse representing the youth across the Mediterranean. Working not "for" but "with" future generations. This was the first key message, followed immediately by an acknowledgement of the importance of wood-based products in reconnecting people living in cities with forests and nature. The third point is communication: the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis and many other crises the planet is going through are communication crises.

Youth, Wood, Communication.

A perfect way to introduce the themes of this week that work to unite through the Mediterranean, countries belonging to different continents and cultures, in the common objective of Sustainable Forest Management and ecosystem restoration. Looking through the topics of the various sessions, here is a series of reflections and ideas that emerged during the event.

Youth, Wood, Communication, the next step is data. To better manage the 88 million hectares of forests in the Mediterranean area, we need reliable and harmonized data on their extension, distribution and classification. The European Topic Center for Spatial Analysis and Synthesis (ETC-UMA) is leading a project to map them using satellite data, a process that is also essential for quantifying the contribution of these ecosystems in fighting the climate crisis. There is still a huge difference between the quality of data available in Europe and other countries around the Mediterranean where estimates can include errors of up to 80%.

In the spotlight, also the Non-Wood Forest Products and their fundamental role in sustaining the small-scale economies of local communities, thus ensuring the protection of the territory. Resin, cork, mushrooms, chestnuts, medicinal herbs, honey - a long list of products on which almost one in six people globally depend for part of their livelihoods, according to the latest IPCC report.

Another major theme of the week was Forest and Landscape Restoration (FLR), in the context of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. A theme of global importance that must be adapted to the Mediterranean context and its peculiarities. Upstream of all the technical choices, it is necessary to ask ourselves how to promote the meeting between the needs of FLR and those of the communities that insist on territories, crucial participants for the process to be successful. This assumption, which is valid in general, is even more important in a densely populated area such as the Mediterranean.

Still on FLR, but moving on to design, two key topics emerged from the sessions. The first concerns the importance of the choice between "active" and "passive" restoration. That goes beyond cost/benefit assessment and requires an approach that considers the complexity of individual contexts: once the main objectives have been defined, there are no standard solutions. Once again, the answer to the question "how should one act?" is "it depends". The second issue regards propagation material used in FLR projects. Studies on provenance and the preservation of local populations as reservoirs of genetic diversity become more relevant in the context of climate change. To maximize the adaptive capacity of the ecosystems we are restoring, it is essential to take these aspects into account. However, genetic studies and the biological timeframe for the subsequent production of propagation material (seeds, seedlings, etc.) require a long-term vision that goes beyond the urgency of individual projects, whose duration is often too short. Like any other region on the planet, the Mediterranean needs to invest in a long-term strategy for the production of quality propagation material.

The theme of Forest and Landscape Restoration was also taken up by the MED FORUM, the meeting of Mediterranean Model Forests organized by the Mediterranean Model Forest Network (MMFN) as a parallel event of the week. The MMFN involves 11 forests located in Morocco, Turkey, Algeria, Greece, Spain, France, Croatia and Italy, of which 7 are already recognised by the International Network of Model Forests and 4 are still in the process of accreditation. As of 2019, Tuscany Region helds the Secretariat of the MMFN.

In line with the week’s themes, the MED FORUM was dedicated to discussing how Model Forests can contribute to the development of youth entrepreneurship through nature-based solutions. Christophe Besacier (FAO - FLRM), one of the leaders of the collection of good practices for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, stressed how the model forest approach is in line with the objectives of this global challenge. Working to harmonize the needs of those involved in the forestry sector, from policymakers to local communities and producers, is essential to re-establishing the connection between people and the ecosystems in which they live. Without this connection, ecosystem restoration initiatives are unlikely to achieve the expected results.

Regarding ecosystem restoration, it should be noted that, within the framework of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, Silva Mediterranea will support the candidature of the Mediterranean area to be recognised as World Restoration Flagship. This recognition could represent an important opportunity of visibility for the work of ecosystem restoration that is already taking place in the Mediterranean countries, with the identification of good practices to be included in a global platform of exchange and sharing. The Flagship also provides access to dedicated funding for replication and upscaling of activities.

Still on nature-based solutions, the Network of Mediterranean Model Forests organized a technical session on the potential of using these practices to create job opportunities for young entrepreneurs. Toni Ventre, secretary of the Network, highlighted how the youth’s involvement in management processes and policy creation is still limited. While there are many innovative bottom-up experiences, it is rare that the results obtained from these experiences are transferred to national or European policies. It resulted in an archipelago of isolated practices that struggle to express their revolutionary potential.  The development of exchange platforms, networks and forums that bring together these experiences and give them visibility is therefore essential. As pointed out by Riccardo Castellini in presenting the results of the Rosewood4.0 project, an effort is needed to harmonize, translate and make the project’s experiences accessible to as wide an audience as possible. In the continuous search for innovation, there is a risk of forgetting the potential of replicating good practices already implemented elsewhere in other projects. The hope is that dissemination of results will increasingly play a major role in planning, with adequate budget and attention to match the challenge, rather than being seen as an awkward but mandatory action of many funding program. A further effort is needed to facilitate the collaboration between academic/institutional networks and the youth movements.

Communication, youths, wood, data, ecosystem restoration, non-wood products, nature-based solutions: these are just some of the key words of this seventh Mediterranean Forest Week which fed into the "Antalya Declaration", the final document drafted by Silva Mediterranea and approved by all the participants at the event. Guidelines that take up the challenges of the previous declarations, the Agadir Declaration (2017) and the Brummana Declaration (2019), tracing the path for the sustainable management and restoration of Mediterranean forests. For the first time, this declaration is accompanied by a Mediterranean Youth Statement, which will be included in the World Forestry Congress Youth Declaration during the world congress to be held in Seoul, Korea, next May.