The forests of the world generate millions of jobs. Today the timber sector alone formally employs 13.2 million people worldwide, and another 41 million people informally. Who are these people, and what do they do at work? In this lesson, you will learn about forest labour and meet some of the people working with the forests as a workplace.
1. Meet the forest workforce
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Planters often work in teams out in the field, placing new seedlings in the soil with the help of a planting tube. Planting new trees is an important task to secure the future supply of timber and the growth of new forests.
”I work for two months here in Sweden, and then I go back home to Romania for one month, to be with my family.
I work in all kinds of weather. Heavy rain and wind, or strong sun. I saw a bear once, it was nice.”
Nature Guide, Brazil:
A nature guide presents the nature and educates tourists and visitors. In national parks around the world, indigenous people often work in the area of sustainable ecotourism. Bringing foreigners to adventurous holidays, they promote wildlife preservation and an increased understanding of local communities.
Forest Manager, Canada:
A forest manager manages large forest areas, negotiating with different local businesses. Developing forests for various purposes, and adapting them to climate change are part of the daily work.
”We manage areas within three distinct ecosystems, from dry Douglas-fir forest to interior rainforest. We manage our forest for educational and research opportunities, public values and earnings. In some of our Old Growth Management Areas, some individual trees can be over 300 years old!”
A logger harvest trees, sawing them into appropriate lengths. In Indonesia an estimated 70-75 percent of timber is harvested illegally, causing devastating consequences for the biologically diverse rainforest. The scarcity of jobs means that the average person would welcome a job in the forestry sector, whether the operation is legal or not.
Agroforestry officer, Tanzania:
In agroforestry, growing food is combined with tree planting. An agroforestry officer educates farmers in the agroforestry farming practices and the management of trees. Agroforestry organisations support farmers’ organisations by building their capacity and giving them fund. Through this, the farmers facilitate tree planting to the community.
”The main products from agroforestry are firewood, poles, fruits, timber, fodder and crops. Buyers are within the respective community and nearby towns or regions. But also, companies in Sweden are paying for a product that cannot be seen; that is climate compensation through tree planting. The growing trees increase the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thus contributing to the mitigation of climate change.”
Nature conservation supervisor, Sweden:
A nature conservation supervisor is a specialist in ecology and forest conservation, spending much time outdoors searching uncommon plants and wildlife. Many are involved in giving advice to landowners, but also controlling forest management practices according to certification schemes.
”I love being outdoors, sharing my time with the creatures living in the forest, although I cannot see them all. I want to save it for generations to come, and help forest-owners to grasp the diversity in nature.”
Carrying heavy loads of wood on foot, a ”headloader” walks several kilometers a day between forests and communities. In India alone, this labour occupies approximately 11,8 million people. The vast majority are women.
Log Truck Driver, Sweden:
A log truck driver transports timber from the forest to paper mills and sawmills.
The job involves driving a heavy truck with a trailer and loading the timber with a crane. Working hours can be both during night and day, working in shifts.
”The best thing about my job is the freedom, the challenge and to have the forest as an office.”
Swedish Timber Sales Representative, China:
Working in the global timber market, a timber sales representative is dealing with customers from all over the world. A lot of time is spent on journeys and office meetings. Selling sawn timber in China means extensive traveling to wood working industries located all over the country
“The actual sales is only one part of the job. A lot of time is spent on planning the actual delivery of the goods. The lead time from issuing a sales contract to when a customer is receiving the goods , at their industry in China, is almost 3 months. Goods have to be planned for production, containers have to be ordered, space on vessel needs to be booked and necessary documents need to be issued.“
Sustainability Manager, Paper producer, Brazil:
Managing sustainable development goals regarding biodiversity and ecosystem services, among other things. This is very important for companies that wish to contribute to a renewable future. This company is involved in restoration projects in rainforests near the Brazilian coast.
“The company I work for is the main paper, paper package and carton board producer in Brazil. We deal with Pinus and Eucalyptus plantations for our production. These plantations are interspersed with conservation areas. 43% of the total area are natural protected forests.”
Scientist, cellulose nanofiber lab, university Sweden:
Scientists are researching how to make use of forest materials to separate cellulose nano fibers that are thousands time smaller than the width of a hair. The benefit of the small size is that it provides a variety of properties that can be used for material applications such as wound healing or as strong and lightweight packaging.
”A major motivation for me is to develop sustainable materials, but also to support future engineers and researchers.
My vision is that we make better use of our resources and nano materials from the forest can contribute to the development of future sustainable materials.”
Wood Craftsman, Sweden:
A wood craftsman produces handicraft from local tree species. This often involves skills in both design and manufacture, and sometimes also giving public lectures.
“Early on, I wondered why American oak and Finnish birch were used instead of Swedish wood, in Sweden. I started the production in 1988. I manufacture all products myself, from plank to furniture. My interest in wood has only increased over the years.”
2. Pick a profession!
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Write down your thoughts
What would you like to do for a living? Choose a profession among the examples above. Answer the questions below in writing. When you are done, interview a classmate using the same questions.
- Why did you choose this job? (outdoors/indoors, travel, colleagues etc)
- How would you describe an ordinary day at work?
- What do you think you would appreciate the most about your work?
- All professions can be challenging at times. What do you think would be the hardest part of your work?
- Among your many abilities, which ones would you find particularly useful in this work?
- Why do you think the Headloader picked her job?
- Who gets to work outside, in the forest?
- Who is most at risk for work-related injuries?
- What determines a person’s choice of profession?
Immerse yourself in the forest
Read the interviews
Grace, Environmental Officer, Agroforestry, Tanzania
What kind of forest do you deal with at work?
– I coordinate a climate change mitigation project. It is agroforestry – trees with crops and livestock. The dominant tree species are Maesopsis eminii and Acrocarpus flaxifolius. The age of the trees differ from three to eleven years.
What are the main products from your forest and who is the buyer?
– The main products from agroforestry are firewood, poles, fruits, timber, fodder and crops. Buyers are within the respective community and nearby towns or regions. But also there is this not seen product (carbon) through carbon dioxide sequestration. The buyers for carbon are different companies in Sweden.
Picture above: In agroforestry, growing food is combined with tree planting. Photo: Vi Agroforestry.
Do You have any long-term goals, e.g. regarding sustainability?
– Yes, there is a long term goal regarding sustainability. In order to create ownership and sustainability, we started to work through a partnership program whereby farmers are facilitated on skills and funds to carry out development activities, including tree planting.
Have the forests in Tanzania been affected by climate change?
Are there other problems regarding the forests in Tanzania?
– The main problems are deforestation due to timber, charcoal, firewood, agriculture, mining, road construction and settlement.
Do people in Tanzania often visit forests in general?
– People visit forests for various and different reasons. From traditional medicines collections, firewood fetching, charcoal making, bird watching, hunting, food collections and refreshment (tourism).
Stephanie, Forest manager, Canada
Tell me about the forest you deal with at work?
– I manage forests for the University of British Columbia. We manage areas within three distinct ecosystems, from dry Douglas-fir forest to interior rainforest. Within all 3 of those areas, we manage our forest for educational and research opportunities, public values and earnings. Overall, we have a huge range of stand structures within our forest. In some of our Old Growth Management Areas, some individual trees can be over 300 years old! In all of the areas we manage, Douglas-fir is the primary species.
What are the main products from your forest and who is the buyer?
– Because we are managing timber tenure on public land, we only have exclusive access to timber. Logs we harvest are used for log homes, timber-frame homes, lumber, plywood, pulp, pellets and biomass. We try to maintain a diversity of buyers and particularly like to support smaller, specialty product businesses that may have difficulty accessing fibre.
Do you have any long-term goals, e.g. regarding sustainability?
– My long-term sustainability goals at the moment are more centered around running a sustainable social enterprise that focuses on research and education. To me, that means generating enough revenue to support our staff in delivering educational and research opportunities, while managing our forest in a sustainable way that demonstrates a range of ecosystems.
The forests in your country, have they been affected by climate change?
– Certainly! Regionally, we have seen unprecedented forest fires (in 2017, 2018 and 2021) and I see evidence of drought stress through the growing season in many of my stands. In our driest areas, we struggle to re-establish trees after harvesting, where perhaps grasslands may be better suited to future conditions. We’ve also seen a lot of change in fall and winter conditions which affects our harvesting opportunities. We historically have done the majority of our harvesting in the winter when the ground is frozen and protected by a layer of snow. With increased precipitation in the fall, and a shorter period of freezing temperatures, there are fewer days per year in which we have those favorable conditions for harvesting.
Do people in your country often visit forests in general? For what purpose?
– Public access to forests is very important in Canada. Hunting, gathering and recreating are the primary activities people visit our forests for. Canadian forests attract visitors from around the world.
Ivone, Sustainability Manager at the leading Paper Manufacturer in Brazil.
Hello Ivone, What kind of forest do you deal with at work?
– We deal with Pinus and Eucalyptus plantations for our production. These plantations of different ages are interspersed with conservation areas. 43% of the total area are natural protected forests, containing a mix of species and ages. Basically, they are tropical to subtropical forests, most of them with a dominant and wonderful species called Araucaria angustifolia or Brazilian Paraná Pine (Pinheiro do Paraná). Plantations and natural forests form a wonderful mosaic of green that is beneficial for the maintenance of biodiversity, water, carbon storage, providing several ecosystem services.
What are the main products from your forest and who is the buyer?
– The company I work for is the main paper and paper package and carton board producer in Brazil. It is also a big player in pulp (cellulose) providing long fiber pulp (used mostly for absorbing tissue and products related). Buyers are in internal and external markets (such as Europe, Asia, North America).
Does your company have any long-term goals regarding sustainability?
– Yes. Based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, my company facilitated our own Goals for Sustainable Development: Building a renewable future, Contributing to a sustainable economy, Prosperity for people, Technology and Innovation. They all have value propositions and challenging goals for 2030. The goals start with wood availability, pass through biodiversity, culture, innovation, and come to information security.
Have the forests in your country been affected by climate change?
– The forests in Brazil, unfortunately not different from most other countries, are being affected by climate change, such as being subjected to long periods of dry season and also problems with forest fires. These all modify the structure of these forests mainly in areas like the Brazilian Savannah or the remnants of Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest.
Are there other problems regarding the forests in your country?
– We deal with many problems but I would summarize the main problems as dry seasons and fires. In the areas where we work, we are highly involved in restoration projects trying to give life back to the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest. These are the most affected forests by anthropization, areas where agriculture and cities were highly prioritized in these last five centuries…
Do people in Brazil often visit forests in general? For what purpose?
– It is not as common as it is in Europe or the USA. There are places developed to proportionate forest experience to the population but they are basically linked to areas with some scenic views, such as waterfalls, mountains peaks and lakes.