The MENFRI project thrust forward a new approach in innovative research and sustainable development

Un grup d'experts durant la seva visita a Catalunya. Autor: Isaak Lupiañez
Un grup d'experts durant la seva visita a Catalunya. Autor: Isaak Lupiañez

The European project MENFRI was coordinated by CREAF and came to an end in 2016. Its novel approach, centering on cooperation and knowledge transfer, has opened the door to new opportunities, The NODE being one of them.

Participants en una de les trobades, a Tunísia. Font: MENFRI
Experts participating in a meeting, in the Hassan II University (Morocco). Author: Isaac Lupiañez

In April 2013 the Mediterranean Network of Forest Research and Innovation (MENFRI) began under the umbrella of the 7th Framework Program for Research and Development of the European Commission (FP7). Based at CREAF, researcher Enrique Doblas Miranda led a team of institutions, universities, and businesses from the Mediterranean Basin. Over three years MENFRI was able to strengthen sustainable development and establish a consolidated network of forestry sector contacts linking the Northern and Southern Mediterranean.

“As a transition between FP7 and the current Horizon 2020 program there was creation of a European program whose explicit goal was research for innovation, and MENFRI was born with this idea,” says Enrique Doblas. The necessity of transmitting and bearing out in practice the knowledge generated by CREAF and other centers researching forest ecology and management was what motivated the initiation of the project. “Part of our responsibility is to convey knowledge to society so that it is understood that forestry studies are important,” says Jordi Vayreda, CREAF researcher and project participant.

Taller realitzat a Tunísia. Font: MENFRI
Workshop and business brokerage tin Tunisia. Author: Isaac Lupiañez

Providing solutions to many needs

The uniqueness of MENFRI is found in its novel approach which sparked its beginning and was maintained through the project. In this project the results are not as tangible as other, more orthodox scientific projects; its objective was different. MENFRI has offered a wide range of services to people associated with the Mediterranean forestry sector. Free courses were offered on geographical information systems, business management, the creation of new businesses, as well as workshops, seminars, and meetings to strengthen business ties and projects joining the two sides of the Mediterranean.

“We’ve realized that forest owners need guidance on how to market and promote their products, especially in Maghreb countries. There, there are people that benefit from the forest but lack business skills and are in fact selling environmentally-damaging projects with very little benefit to themselves and the forest,” explains Enrique Doblas. Jordi Vayreda adds, “when someone shows them how to make better use of the resources available and the money that can be made it is not hard for them to see the necessity of preserving and looking toward the future of those forests.”

Tres homes tunisians en un instal·lació de creixement de plançons d'arbres. Autor: Isaak Lupiañez
Three workers in a Tunisian grwoing tree installations. Author: Isaac Lupiañez

Cooperation and collaboration were fundamental aspects of the project

MENFRI was made possible thanks to collaborations between European and North African partners. “It was not the typical cooperation project where I give you what you don’t have. It was a genuine exchange,” recalls Doblas. For CREAF, MENFRI represented an opportunity to establish political contacts among countries of the European Union and Northern Africa including Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. “We need to offer our knowledge freely because there are many people who need it. We should really aim to do more projects along these lines,” says Doblas.

Collaboration with these partners has also allowed CREAF “access to new sites and habitats for experimentation; they showed us business models which have been developing successfully for years, mostly related to the harvesting of non-wood products which are really the products of the future in Mediterranean countries,” says Jordi Vayreda.

Un grup d'experts durant la seva visita a Catalunya. Autor: Isaak Lupiañez
A group of experts during a visit in Catalonia. Author: Isaac Lupiañez

MENFRI has also served for establishing collaborations and synergies with other projects having a similar approach but in fields such as renewable energy, water management, and agriculture. “We had joint activities with other projects also working in the Mediterranean because we saw that, despite having different themes, we shared very similar problems. We established very beneficial alliances which are still in effect,” says Doblas.

Along these lines, the project established a collaboration PEFC, a sustainable forestry certification which has already met success in some countries including Spain and France. “[at that point] PEFC wasn’t established in North Africa. We offered them the opportunity of gaining contacts in the region and the possibility that some governments develop programs with their sustainability label,” explains Doblas. At the same time, he adds, “PEFC gave a big boost to our international profile and guaranteed high enrollment in our courses.”

Una dona marroquina treballant a casa seva. Autor: Isaak Lupiañez
A Moroccan women works in a local cooperative. Author: Isaac Lupiañez

Forest management and knowledge transfer are crucial to society

“We can’t continue thinking about conserving forests by eliminating any sort of contact with them because we are also a part of that ecosystem. Conservation only for love of nature is already an antiquated concept,” says Doblas.

In order for society at large to understand what goes on in centers such as CREAF it is important that research does not only remain behind closed doors; the information needs to be available to others and be comprehensible. With a proper understanding of the knowledge generated by this center and others it is evident that the only way to effectively conserve a forest is to manage it correctly and use it sustainably: it is with this realization that conservation becomes important to many actors. “It is much more useful to make investments in educating those who make a living from the forest than solely in research and preserving it intact, especially if that knowledge isn’t going to get to the people who depend on it,” says Doblas.

El 23% de la població rural de Tunísia depèn directament dels boscos. Autor: Isaal Lupiañez
Visiting a Agricultural Development Group in Tunisia. Author: Isaac Lupiañez

The NODE, a step further

MENFRI came to a close with a conference at the European Parliament the 16th of November 2016. However, even from the start of the project, the MENFRI partners saw the necessity of continuing to push for sustainable development of the Mediterranean forestry sector.

Paisatges de Tunísia on el projecte MENFRI hi ha pogut treballar. Autor: Isaak Lupiañez
23% of rural popultaion in Tunisian depends on forests directly. Author: Isaac Lupiañez

This interest has materialized as The NODE, a non-profit platform for multidisciplinary services. This project aims to aid local and regional governments in sustainable development, offering solutions which consider social, ecological, political, and even logistical aspects. “We offer services which feed off the relationships and connections which were established during MENFRI. We work as a node; depending on your interests and necessities you are put in touch with the most appropriate partner entity,” says Enrique Doblas, project head.

MENFRI was an initiative which, in addition to its own success, has provided the basis for a network of contacts and connections that will be taken advantage of in The NODE, offering sustainable development solutions for the Mediterranean Basin.

Process, results and assessments of MENFRI project

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