Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine: United by Forests

March 27, 2015

Apart from being strikingly beautiful, forests provide a priceless resource – crucial for the world’s ecosystem and climate, as well as for local economies.

What makes a successful forester? For Mykhaylo Popkov, a Ukrainian researcher involved in the science of managing forests for nearly 30 years, a forester’s job covers everything from ecological restoration and timber harvesting to the protection of natural resources and implementation of forestry laws.

According to Popkov, there have been several attempts in the recent past to change the forest management system in Ukraine to bring it in line with best practices, but the outdated model has prevailed.

“In order to preserve the forests and use their full potential for the benefit of the people, environment and economy, we need to start managing forests better or we could lose them forever. We have to save them,” Popkov says.

The World Bank and the European Union have been working together to help forestry experts like Popkov and those responsible in the government forestry agencies design and implement much-needed reforms, based on the sustainable use of forest resources.

The European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument East Countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia) Forest Law Enforcement and Governance Program, or FLEG Program, is an initiative funded by the EU and implemented by the World Bank in partnership with the international NGOs – International Union for Conservation of Nature and World Wide Fund for Nature. 


Many Ukrainian foresters believe that a full-scale forest policy re-think must be at the heart of the government’s forest management reform to preserve the forests and use their full potential for the benefit of the people who live and work there, as well as for the economy and the environment.

Photo by Sergii Grytsenko

Among other activities, the FLEG Program helps the participating countries develop forest policy and plans in the seven countries, including Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. As part of the project, joint detailed plans for reforming sustainable forest sectors have been developed with the help of local and international experts, NGOs, academia, the private sector and governments.

In Belarus, for instance, the program provided the analytical background for the new National Forestry Sector Strategic Plan until the year 2030.

In all three countries, in addition to the FLEG program, the World Bank has funded forest policy studies with the aim of supporting the governments reshape forest sector processes and attract investment for sustainable forest management. These studies look at the forest sector and compare it with the experiences of other countries. As a rule, they identify some key issues for forest policy reform and, in some cases, help prioritize areas for further collaboration with the World Bank.

These studies identified the need for investment in education for a qualified workforce; development of forestry infrastructure; use of modern harvesting and wood-processing technologies; and improvement of legal frameworks, so that this important natural resource can be managed more sustainably.

Qualified workforce

Belarus, where forests represent nearly 40 percent of the territory, managed to boost preventive activities against illegal logging and the associated forest-product sales and corruption. Recognizing that forests are among its most precious natural resources, Belarus increased forested areas from 35 percent of the country’s territory in 1994 to over 39 percent in 2013. During this period, the World Bank was also engaged in providing support for the formulation of policies and strategic planning underpinning the development of the country’s afforestation capacity. The first Forestry Development Project was completed in 2002, with the help of the World Bank, and some 514,000 hectares of new forest were created from 2002-2014.


In Belarus, where forests represent nearly 40 percent of the country’s territory, training systems for forest management and forest protection have been revamped.

Photo by Irina Oleinik

Belarus has also established the conditions for further modernization of the national forest policy and forest sector strategic development, based on the rational balance between economic, ecological and social interests.

Without a qualified workforce, it is difficult to implement new and sustainable technologies, however, so the country prioritized efforts to revamp its training systems for forest management and forest protection. 

“We developed and introduced forestry law training courses covering all levels of professional education: starting from technical schools and ending at higher institutions. A young professional now gets better quality training; he or she comes all equipped to the workplace, able to work effectively,” says Valeriy Pobirushko of the Institute of Experimental Botany at the Belarus Academy of Sciences.

The land of hajduks

In Moldova, about 200 years ago, forests covered up to 30 percent of the country’s territory. These were lush codru forests once known as the land of hajduks, or heroic outlaws who, according to Moldovan folklore, robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.

Historically, the forests protected people and provided them with shelter, woodfuel and subsistence products like berries and mushrooms. But today, Moldova has relatively low forest cover of just 11 percent of the land area. This significantly contributes to the high level of soil erosion, landslides, degradation of water resources and intensified droughts.

According to Ion Talmaci, Deputy Technical Director at the Forest Research and Management Institute at MoldSilva, the national forestry agency, the main causes of forest degradation have been illegal logging, as a consequence of higher prices for wood and fuel, and the lack of effective forest management.

Therefore, planting new forests and enhancing national forest management are among the government’s priorities. The forest sector presents significant opportunities for future development, as increasing the forested areas will create benefits favorable for climate change mitigation and local employment.

“Over 2002-10 the authorities managed to plant 60,000 hectares of new forests, with about half of which were planted with support of the World Bank,” says Talmaci from MoldSilva.

Talmaci hopes that, in line with the national priorities, they will manage to increase forest cover to 15 percent during the first stage, and then to 20 percent of its territory in the second stage of implementation of the forestry development plan.


In Moldova, historically, the forests protected people and provided them with shelter and subsistence products like woodfuel, berries and mushrooms.

Photo by Marin Iliut

Future and forests

Many Ukrainian foresters have welcomed the news that forest management reform is among the new government’s priorities. They believe that a full-scale forest policy re-think will contribute to Ukraine’s effective integration into the EU’s forestry strategy and action plan. Together with FLEG experts, they also developed a blueprint for these vital reforms.

These reforms include restructuring the state forestry agency and drawing clear lines between political, operational, control and managerial functions by amending the country’s Forestry Code. Based on a FLEG-commissioned poll, in which 95 percent of respondents supported state ownership, they also call for national forests to be kept under state-ownership. Finally, for better management, Ukraine needs to establish a state holding company to unite the existing state-owned forestry enterprises, something that was successfully done in Poland, Latvia and other European countries.

“We can see the future for forestry resources and their strategic value with respect to our three countries,” Popkov says. “The potential for developing forestry in Ukraine is obvious. But we need to carry out forest management reforms now.”

hectares of new forest were created in Belarus from 2002-2014

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