For every tree cut in Sweden, the law dictates that you plant two

Caroline Vicini

Swedish ambassador to Kenya Caroline Vicini during the interview at her office in Gigiri, Nairobi.

Photo credit: Sammy Waweru | Nation Media Group

Sweden, a Nordic nation on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe, is where anyone may want to live. It has adopted commercial forestry and through its drive to conserve the environment, Sweden has attained more than 70 per cent forest cover. Just how did it meet this target? Swedish ambassador to Kenya and Permanent Representative to Unep and UN-Habitat Caroline Vicini spoke to Seeds of Gold. 

Sweden’s forest cover is more than 70 per cent. From the records, the country has more than doubled the cover in just a century. How did Sweden achieve this even in the face of industrialisation when forest products are in high demand?

In Sweden, one is always surrounded by forest. My father worked in the forest industry. The forest has been a resource.

Sweden achieved the milestone through stringent measures and laws governing forests and conservation. The legislation was introduced many decades ago. Every tree cut must be replaced with at least two.

We also adopted commercial forestry. The sector is now the main source of income for Swedes, producing timber and its by-products.

This enabled Sweden to double the forest cover in just 100 years. That happened because we realised commercial forestry was one way of industrialising the country.

What happens to the trees? Is there a time supply outstrips demand? Can there be a situation in which Sweden has more trees than it needs?

We adopted and implemented an offset programme. Mature trees are harvested and replaced with seedlings.

Sweden’s commitment to commercial forestry has seen it emerge as one of the leading exporters of timber and value-added tree products in the world. We actually export more than we consume.

What trees are mainly grown in Sweden? For what purpose are the tree species?

There is a variety of trees, the most common being spruce, pine, birch and oak. Traditionally timber is the principal construction material in Sweden. The introduction of mass timber technologies has repositioned timber as a key construction material.

Trees have value commercially. They need to be of good quality in order to be used for construction and value-addition. They can be made into pulp and paper, furniture, wood pellets, biomass, plywood and hard and chip boards. We also extract bio-oil from trees.

Nothing goes to waste. Branches and leaves are used as energy and manure for plants.

Sara culture house

The Sara culture house, one of the world’s tallest buildings built from sustainable timber, in Skelleftea, northeastern Sweden. It is a 20-storey building.

Photo credit: AFP

Like you’ ve just said, many houses in Sweden are made of timber as opposed to places like Kenya and Africa in general where concrete is king. Is it because of history or did the government deliberately initiate a campaign to encourage the use of wood in construction?

Building trees from timber is a Swedish culture. It is part of our history right from the age of the Vikings. I and my siblings grew up in a timber house that is now 120 years old. The house is by the sea.

What happens to the wood, say when a house is demolished or when furniture is no longer in use? Is it recycled? Does it get other uses? Which uses are these?

The Swedish economy is circular. We do not believe in wasting anything. Wood from aging houses is recycled. It can also be ground to make pellets, furniture and other products.

Apart from construction, what other industries consume large quantities of timber?

Well, being one of the largest exporters of timber worldwide, pulp and paper industries follow. Furniture also forms part of the list.

What lessons can Kenya and other countries learn from Sweden in terms of increasing forest cover and exploiting forest resources sustainably?

The secret of achieving the targeted cover is commercial forestry. Growing valuable trees is the important. Kenya and the other countries can adopt tough laws and implementable conservation policies. The country’s forests need to be maintained for sustainability.

The construction culture also needs transformation from cement and steel to timber. It should be noted that cement and steel are not good for the environment. Concrete is one of the major sources of greenhouse emissions.

Are children, the youth and women involved in conservation efforts in Sweden?

Traditionally, young people and women are engaged in the ecosystem conservation. The campaign is through various sectors and players.

Has the Swedish forest industry had any challenges in the face of global warming?

Sweden is keen on conserving the environment through commercial forestry.  Every urban centre is surrounded by a forest. The beauty of nature reciprocates if you conserve it through trees.  We have learned to take biodiversity into consideration when planting trees as we saw how vulnerable monoculture can be to pests and insects.

How do Swedish authorities ensure forest conservation? Does the campaign involve private organisations?

Like I said before, every tree felled must be replaced with at least two. Forests are conserved, maintained and protected against predators.

We allow wood burning and many houses are heated with pellets. However, nobody cooks on open fire and it is forbidden to fell trees or collect wood in forests you do not own.

Conserving forests and the environment is a socio-commercial-driven cause. Forests are owned by the government, ordinary citizens, farmers, investment companies, the Lutheran Church and other players.

What are the main wood importing countries?

Sweden mainly exports timber and wood products to other countries in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Even Kenya imports some of these products.

Most of Kenya is arid while Sweden experiences winter. How can Kenya increase the forest cover to about 30 per cent as envisaged by the government?

The Special Presidential Forestry and Rangeland Acceleration Programme aims at bringing all players on board. They are drawn from government agencies, the private sector and NGOs in a bid to grow 15 billion trees by 2032. It is a good initiative.  Tree planting is a possible quest.

If the campaign is well implemented, jobs will be created through seedling propagation, conservation and industrialisation. Large scale commercial forestry is a part of the solution to increase the tree cover in Kenya, provided that mandatory replanting is introduced.