A root to knowledge exchange - Forestry Research Network for Sub-Saharan Africa

Wood Focus magazine
25 Apr 2011
lake in forest

Global Forest Information Service Coordinator Eero Mikkola and FORNIS Webmaster Stella Britwum Acquah outline the online Forestry Research Network for Sub-Saharan Africa.

Providing access to scientific and technical research information is recognised worldwide as an essential element in promoting national development. Sustainable management, conservation and development of forest resources are badly needed in sub-Saharan Africa (as in the rest of the world). They cannot be achieved, however, without the support of sound and forward-looking forestry and agroforestry research, conducted by national and cooperating research institutions.

In sub-Saharan Africa, a weak institutional setting, understaffing and inadequate resources burden forestry research. Furthermore, activities in Africa are often undertaken in isolation in the different countries, resulting in undesirable duplication of effort. Information on research activities is also urgently needed, to promote cooperation and more efficient use of scarce resources.

The Forestry Research Network of sub-Saharan Africa (FORNESSA), together with its strategic partner, the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), has established an online FORNESSA Information Service called FORNIS as a gateway for African scientists to showcase their contributions towards achieving global forestry objectives.

The information service supports knowledge exchange and assists the efficient and effective flow of scientific information among researchers, research institutions, policymakers, the forestry industry and communities.

The FORNIS information service is implemented by Metla (The Finnish Forest Research Institute), in collaboration with the US Forest Service, and is sponsored by the Austrian Government, the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and the US Forest Service.

Accessible information platform

Launched in July 2010, the information available on the website includes general information about FORNESSA member institutions, scientists and their fields of specialisation, as well as past and ongoing research projects in the various subregions, plus the latest scientific papers, technical reports, studies and theses. Content is also targeted at forest policymakers, managers, the media and the general public.

The most significant component is the provision of content to meet the changing research requirements of institutions in sub-Saharan Africa. FORNESSA member institutions have, therefore, focused on four main thematic networking activities – forests and climate change, forest policy and governance, forest product use and trade, and forests and poverty alleviation. Members of the thematic groups discuss topical issues in the subregion and the results are uploaded. The language of these publications is tailored to the general public so that FORNIS serves to spread scientific knowledge to wider audiences.

A survey, conducted among six FORNESSA member research institutions between 2006 and 2008, noted that the majority of scientific papers are offline and have limited circulation. There is a lot of information and knowledge in research institutions that needs to be shared and made available online. Currently, FORNIS contains 89 full text articles on scientific publications, 43 records of information about experts and seven ongoing projects.

Forest feeds

FORNIS is accessed via www.fornis.net and it is considered a regional platform of the Global Forest Information Service (GFIS). Information uploaded to FORNIS is linked to GFIS through RSS feeds.

GFIS is a collaborative initiative that allows the sharing of forest-related information through a single gateway at www.gfis.net. The information resources accessible through GFIS are freely available, and provide direct access to the original information.

Today there are more than 260 information provider partners that maintain over 280 forest-related RSS feeds from around the world linked to the GFIS search. Users can find around 500 news items, more than 150 upcoming events and 150 new publications weekly via the GFIS gateway.

Although FORNIS is a new service on the web, there has been a big increase in users and page views during the past six months. Apart from direct links to the homepage, visits to the website come through search engines and other external links.

The greatest challenge identified is communication and coordination between FORNESSA member institutions. And slow internet connectivity in Africa makes uploading documents difficult.

Therefore, a more concerted effort needs to be made for improved sharing of scientific information in sub-Saharan Africa. Improved communication and better networking between FORNESSA member institutions would be one of the most effective means of accessing and sharing scientific information. Greater publicity also needs to be given to FORNIS so that more researchers, policymakers, forest managers, media representatives, and the general public become aware of and make use of the service.

The results of the first phase have been promising and strategic partners are willing to contribute to the further development of FORNIS. This will cover both partnership and website development, to include liaison with other networks and other in-country forest-related institutions for more content, and an upgrade that adds new functions and improved usability.

The institutions that make up The Forestry Research Network of sub-Saharan Africa (FORNESSA) include:

  • CSIR-Forestry Research Institute of Ghana
  • Kenya Forestry Research Institute
  • Faculty of Forest Resource Technology, Sunyani, Ghana
  • Forestry Research Institute of Malawi
  • Institut de l’Environnement et des Recherches Agricoles, Burkina Faso
  • Forestry Development Authority, Liberia
  • Institute of Agricultural Research for Development, Cameroon.

Further information

Eero Mikkola, Global Forest Information, Coordination Unit, c/o Finnish Forest Research Institute Metla, Jokiniemenkuja 1, BOX 18, FI-01301 Vantaa, Finland
Tel +358 50 3912140 Email eero.mikkola@metla.fi

Stella Britwum Acquah, FORNIS Webmaster, Forestry Research Institute of Ghana, PO Box UP 63 KNUST Kumasi, Ghana, West Africa
Tel  +233 (0)3220 60123/60373 Websites www.fornis.net and www.gfis.net