Q+A: Forest advocate Salina Abraham calls for collective youth voice to forge change

Katelyn Roett
Katelyn Roett
2 March 2018

BONN, Germany (Landscape News) – In 2050, the nearly 2 billion young people alive today will be caretakers of a radically different world.

Projections indicate 60 percent more food will be needed above 2006 levels to feed almost 10 billion people, and it will need to be produced in increasingly harsh conditions resulting from prolonged droughts to extreme flooding caused by climate change according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

The Living Planet Index also shows biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate, with vertebrae species on track to decrease two-thirds by 2020 if nothing is done to curb habitat loss and other threats.

Climate change and ecosystem loss particularly jeopardize the health, food security and economic stability of the 80 percent of today’s young people living in developing countries, says Salina Abraham, youth coordinator at the Global Landscapes Forum and president of the International Forestry Students’ Association (IFSA).

Abraham, who recently addressed these challenges at a Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) conference in Rome focused on halting deforestation, shared her views on why forests are so important to youth, how young people can help stop deforestation and how they can make their voices heard at the local and international level.

Q: Nearly half of the world’s millennials identified “climate change and the destruction of nature” as our most serious global issue in a 2017 World Economic Forum survey; why do you think this a priority for young people?

A: I think young people are particularly aware of changing trends in both climate and technology, due to the drastic changes we have experienced over our lifetime. However, when you look at the survey data, young people who choose climate change as the most serious global issue tend to be more educated and from higher income countries. Those in Oceania were also the only group who viewed climate change as a top choice both nationally and globally. Education is key to promoting the importance of climate change and the environment, and we need to take different outreach approaches in high- and low-income countries. Livelihoods and environment are inextricably connected, but livelihoods must be the priority. We can use this knowledge to become strategic in our approach, and make sure more young people see climate change and environmental preservation as a critical issue.

Q: That same survey says nearly 60 percent of millennials believe their views are ignored before important decisions are taken in their country. How can our leaders more effectively include young people in the decision-making process?

A: This is a common problem and exactly why youth organizations are so necessary for unlocking the potential of young people. Empowerment leads to action while disempowerment leads to apathy.

We need governments, organizations and corporations to create spaces for youth to inform decision-making and really consider how youth – particularly in rural and low-income communities – will be affected by policies and programs. They need to include and fund young leaders, develop long term strategies of engagement within institutions and institutionalize their commitment, like how several countries have appointed ministers of youth and organizations youth coordinators. Providing mentoring and training to young professionals and funding youth-led organizations and associations is also key.

Q: Why should youth care specifically about deforestation?

A: Deforestation is much more than cutting down trees – forests contribute to reducing poverty, fighting climate change, ensuring clean access to water, host much of our biodiversity and many communities rely on forests for food and raw material. Once people understand the benefits that healthy forest ecosystems provide, their importance is clear. Youth delegates at the CPF conference on deforestation worked hard to simplify deforestation by providing a five-day online short course. We promised to make people experts in just 15 minutes a day. I highly recommend those interested to check it out. 

Q: We’re sitting in a room with an 18-year old student, a 25-year old farmer and 30 year-old executive who all want to make a positive impact on the environment – what advice would you give to each?

A: To the 18-year old student: Find your community. It can be easy to think you must know exactly what degree or job is right for you – that is wrong. Take the coming years to explore what excites you, volunteer, and find a student association, when you do this the rest will fall into place.

To the 25-year-old farmer: Build your community and partnerships. Through cooperatives, extension programs and mobile apps you can get exposed to climate smart techniques, agroforestry and other tools to intensify production. More than anything else, you also have a great opportunity to attract other young people into agriculture by building a community of support.

To the 30 year-old executive: Foster a community culture. Too often, I see organizations drowning in the status quo, where individuals are too fearful and limited by bureaucracy. This only results in inefficiency and an inability to accept new modes of thinking; all prerequisites for nurturing a paradigm shift with our environment at the center. Actively fight against siloed divisions and encourage an open, honest culture that thrives in challenge.

For all young people, we need to continue to be a strong voice, remain committed and create new spaces where there are none.

Q: What resources do you recommend for young people who are just starting to become active in forest conservation?

A: Everyone can join the Youth in Landscapes Community. For those interested in forestry, join the IFSA. For young people more focused on agriculture, look into the International Association of Students in Agricultural and Related Sciences, Young Professionals for Agricultural Development and the Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network. Other associations include the European Geography Association and Young Professionals in Forestry, which shares jobs, internships and trainings.

For prospective students, the Global Forest Information Service database lists many forestry related programs at universities and colleges in the globe. It is a great resource for identifying which program is right for you and opportunities to study abroad.

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