The Future Forest Initiative: Fostering the development of innovative solutions for the forests

Tuesday, Aug 01, 2023

The conference on innovation for the future of forests was a pre-event of this year’s Forum for the Future of Agriculture Annual Conference. This article by Christoph zu Stolberg, Head of International Relations, Future Forest Initiative, summarises the meeting.

The Future Forest Initiative (FFI), first Innovation Hub for Forests and Climate in Europe, organized its first conference in Brussels on March 27. The platform aims to foster the development of innovative and sustainable solutions for the forest in times of climate change.

Created in 2022 in Blankenburg (Harz), Germany, the European Innovation Hub combines the innovative power of startups, scientific know-how and empirical values of the established economy from all over Europe. It supports entrepreneurs in the development of their solutions, until they hit the market. International participative events such as the yearly Future Forest Forum and the first startup accelerator for forests in Europe are two key elements of the support provided by the FFI. An investment fund for startups and an institute converging different specialties to ease the development of new projects are under construction.

Pictured above: Dr. Benjamin Kowalski and Franziska Hillmer, FFI

The conference in Brussels was made possible by the support of the Landwirtschaftliche Rentenbank, a strong partner of the FFI since its very beginning. Caspar von Alvens-Leben, Officer for Innovation and Strategy in Agriculture and Forestry at the bank, explained in his opening speech the role of the institution as a financial and advisory supporter for agribusinesses and rural areas in Germany. Besides promoting agriculture and forestry, as well as the entire food
value chain, the bank also supports renewable energies and the bioeconomy. Rentenbank is the first development bank for rural areas in Germany.

Humberto Delgado Rosa, Director for Biodiversity at DG Environment, held the keynote speech and exposed the views and objectives of the European Commission with regard to a new uniform frame it is building for the Member States. It will allow them to monitor the health of their forests in a consistent manner. Copernicus could be used to automize that surveillance. The new EU Framework for Forest Monitoring and Strategic Plans could also allow a new income for landowners thanks to a rewarding (monetarization) strategy to support/enhance nature’s ecosystem services. To illustrate the potential, Mr. ROSA recalled that the investment of €1 into nature restoration brings €8 of benefits through an improvement of the ecosystem services.

To stress the need for practical innovative solutions in the forest sector, Gabriel von dem Bussche discussed the situation of his family estate. He explained the crisis private landowners face due to the effects of climate change on their land. Gabriel, a solution-driven entrepreneur, decided to look at the benefits of new methods and technologies developed by startups to replant, manage, and adapt forests. He therefore joined the FFI-Community.

The conference ended with three startups from the FFI-Community giving practical examples of innovative solutions that support landowners and the forest: Breeze Technologies developed an early warning system for forest fires. Tree.ly offers a platform that generates carbon credits from forest reforestation projects in Europe and Live EO offers an automated land monitoring system by satellite surveillance supported by artificial intelligence.

The participants were delighted with the dynamic felt during the conference. This positive “maker-spirit” is typical of the FFI-events, attracting a crowd which is solution-driven.

The FFI was thankful for the opportunity offered by the European Landowner’s Organization (ELO) and the Forum for the Future of Agriculture to present its structure and objectives, as well as a few of the startups it supports. The FFI is now looking forward to the second edition on the 25th of March 2024, to present many other innovative solutions for the forests. The next large FFI-event will be its forum on the 8th and 9th of September 2023 at Blankenburg Castle (Harz) in Germany. There, startups will pitch their practical solutions and the 300+ participants will receive the opportunity to present their own challenges and projects in workshops. Also, it is the ideal place to find partners and financing, as well as meet forest owners and scientists.

The full agenda and speakers for the pre-Forum event are available on the event page.
A recording of this event can be found on the Videos page.

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