CIFOR-USAID study abroad program supports development of Indonesia’s next generation of forestry experts

Young Indonesian leaders in forestry management, biodiversity conservation and land-use policy  have been given the opportunity to develop expertise through a master’s program managed by CIFOR and funded by USAID that places students in masters degree programs at four US universities with leading forestry and environmental studies programs. The first group of 13 students selected for the program began their studies in the US in August 2016. The next outgoing cohort of nine students is preparing to depart for the US this coming August. The participating universities are the University of Florida, Missouri University, Northern Arizona University, and Yale University.

Students  from the first cohort recently returned to Indonesia from the United States to conduct their master’s thesis field research. At a recent workshop at the CIFOR campus in Bogor, three fellowship students attending the University of Florida, Sheherazade, Willy Daeli and and Metia Lembasi,  presented their research proposals to an audience of CIFOR scientists. 

They also shared their experiences of studying abroad at the University of Florida.

Students admitted to the program were selected through a highly competitive process that considers strong academic achievement in undergraduate studies and relevant work experience in government, civil society and private sector organizations. The graduate programs offered by the participating universities provide opportunities to develop knowledge and skills in forest management, forest and biodiversity conservation, forest economics and governance, land use and landscape planning, and other fields, to be applied back home in Indonesia.

Indonesia currently faces considerable challenges in forest management and conservation. In 2014, Indonesia overtook Brazil as the leading nation in annual loss of primary forest cover. Indonesia’s significant biodiversity, vital for a host of environmental services and economic benefits, is now under threat due to the rapid loss of forests, wetlands and other landscapes. At the same time, growth in agricultural production on deforested lands has contributed to higher incomes for millions of rural Indonesians.

Forest managers, conservationists, policy analysts and economists are urgently needed to assess the environmental and social costs and consequences of deforestation and biodiversity loss, and to help government agencies, private businesses and civil society organizations to fashion solutions to Indonesia’s complex resource management problems. 

Under the program, small groups of students are sent to each of the participating universities, encouraging faculty members  to offer curricula relevant to Indonesia-specific forestry and environmental issues, and enabling fellowship students to support and learn from one another in class and on campus in the US. Unlike many other fellowships, the program also provides funding for students and faculty advisors to conduct on-the-ground field research in Indonesia.

Importantly, the program links students with CIFOR research activities, and ensures that all students conduct research into topics of direct relevance to the forestry sector and current environmental policy debates in Indonesia.

Capacity development is one of the three pillars of CIFOR’s strategy, alongside the pillars of research for impact, and outreach and engagement. The CIFOR-USAID Forestry Fellowship Program is an important example of CIFOR’s commitment to building critical skills among future scientists and leaders in forestry conservation and management, biodiversity, and land-use policy in Indonesia.