“Even after a century of development as a nation, the forestry industries remain a key pillar of the Finnish economy,” says Jari Gustafsson, Permanent Secretary of the country’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.
“Forestry is a true cornerstone of our success as a country,” he continues, “which is, of course, based on the large area of forest cover in Finland – the highest among the European countries. The volume of growing stock continues to increase, while innovation in its use is growing in tandem. The outlook is thus a very positive one.”
Gustafsson points out the important role the forest has always played in Finnish life, from a source of food and warmth, to more modern uses of this key resource:
“People have always lived in the forest and used it in different ways,” he says. “It was very important in the past as a source of food – whether hunted or foraged, such as berries and mushrooms. Finns have been more dependent on forests than anyone else in Europe. Later, slash-and-burn agriculture and tar burning played important roles.
“And now, of course, things have progressed to the current model – the wood-based bioeconomy. Finland certainly has no plans to stop getting the best out of the forest.”
FOREST SECTOR A pillar of the economy
As Gustafsson emphasises, Finnish forest management has, of necessity, been very well organised, and recognition of the importance of sustainability arrived here very early. “Finland is very well known for managing its forest resources in a sustainable manner, and besides the obvious environmental benefits, in many ways the utilisation of wood is at an incredibly efficient level at this point.”
This is certainly demonstrated by the figures. The forest sector currently contributes over four per cent of Finland’s GDP, and directly employs 65,000 people (as well as around 200,000 indirectly).
Almost a quarter of the value of Finnish exports come from the forest, Gustafsson explains. “The value added by the forest sector in Finland is 7.5 billion euros,” he points out, “and while the most important market has traditionally been Europe, the role of the Asian countries is steadily increasing.”
Increasing demand from the east has led to a healthy investment climate for the wood-based industries, says Gustafsson, with forerunners such as Metsä Fibre, with their expansive Äänekoski development (the largest investment the Finnish forestry industries have yet seen), being well place to fulfil that demand.
“The forecast looks very promising,” he concludes, “both in terms of the unique production in Finland and as regards the pipeline for foreign investors with a strong interest in Finland investing more in this sector.”
As the country’s story continues beyond the 100-year mark, then, the consistently productive role of the forest seems far from diminishing.