(Interview conducted by Fatima Ragie)
1) Ragie: As-salaamualaikum sister Faatimah. Thank you for your time and I hope you are doing well.
Mansoor: Wa-alaikumusalaam. All is good and it my pleasure to speak to you.
2) Ragie: The fourteenth World Forestry Congress was held from the 7 to the 11 of September this year, 2015, in the City of Durban. You were privileged enough to be able to attend this international event. Before we speak of this forestry congress, Faatimah, as a scientist and a professional member of our Green Deen South Africa network, can you tell us a bit about yourself, what you are studying and why you have chosen to study what you have?
Mansoor: I am currently pursuing my Masters degrees in Plant Sciences with the School of APES at the University of the Witwatersrand. My research thesis is focussed on the conservation of Avocados. I chose to study in this field as I have always been passionate about plants and the natural environment.
3) Ragie: The World Forestry Congress (WFC) is the largest gathering on forests and forestry internationally and is held at six-year intervals by a host country and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Before we continue, I would like to ask you, what is a forest? What are the different kinds of forests that we find globally and in South Africa?
Mansoor: We usually think of a forest as a number of trees that are growing together. However, forests are more than that. Forests also include other vegetation forms (such as shrubs, herbs and weedy plants) and a community of other organism that live in them, such as mammals, birds, amphibians, insects and fungi. Globally, we find rainforests in tropical areas like central Africa and Brazil, while more temperate deciduous and evergreen forests in the northern most countries of our world. In South Africa, we have arid, savannah forests that cover large expanses of land, while smaller patches of tropical forests on our coastlines.
4) Ragie: The World Forestry Congress served as a platform of discussion for various different parties and stakeholders in the forestry industry. You attended the conference with your professors and a fellow student from Wits University. Can you us an overview of the various types of people and organisations that attended? Who hosted the congress and who was actively involved in decision making?
Mansoor: The congress was hosted by the United Nations’ FAO and our South African government, especially the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. There were around 4 000 attendees from 142 countries. Participants, stakeholders and presenters included people from national government and local municipalities, academics and students from universities, representatives of indigenous communities, corporate industries, social and environmental activists, and other research organisations.
5) Ragie: The theme for the WFC2015 is ‘’Forests and People: Investing in a Sustainable Future’’. Can you unpack this for us? Why do we as people need to invest in our forests to ensure a sustainable future?
Mansoor: The theme was focussed on the importance of forests in supporting our livelihoods. We have become so urbanised that we forget that our existence is dependent on the forests that surround us. Forests provide us with important ecosystem services like air recycling, regulating natural water flow from rain, keeping our soils intact, climate moderators and are carbon stores that help against climate change. Products from forests include timber, fuelwood, coal, paper, furniture, crafts and all the plants, animals and living organisms that provide food and medicine. The emphasis was placed on the sustainable use of forest natural resources.
6) Ragie: Can you give us an overall idea of how the congress was structured?
Mansoor: The congress spanned over five days and consisted of panel discussion by politicians, scientists, people from the forestry industry, and people from indigenous communities. There was a special program dedicated for youth attending the conference which consisted of discussions, addresses by youth representatives from around the world and a few rather fun brainstorming workshop sessions.
The words WFC, staged by the youth during a “flash mob”. Photo source: http://www.iisd.ca/forestry/world-forestry-congress/wfc-14/9sep.html
7) Ragie: : The congress took place for first time on African soil. As a South African, did you identify with this and did the South African voice come out strongly?
Mansoor: Sadly there were not enough platforms given to South African experts and stakeholders to share their experiences and concerns. Encouragingly, the voice of Africa was strongly expressed by the youth in the round table discussions.
8) Ragie: Information was shared and deliberated and decisions were made at the congress. Where can the public access these resources?
Mansoor: The public can visit the following pages:
Panel discussion “Youth- Forests for the future”
9) Ragie: Two sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, comes to mind as we talk of trees and our relationships with them. The first is that if we plant a tree and any living creature eats from it, we will be rewarded. The second is that even if we think tomorrow is the end of the world and we have a sapling in our hands, we must plant it. What advise can you give to the average South African citizen to help care for these priceless assets of forests?
Mansoor: Educate yourself on what forests are, where they are and how important they are. Use and consume products, from fuel wood and paper to tinned food and clothing, in a moderate way and do not waste. Make informed consumer choices. Furthermore, green up. Plant indigenous trees and fruit trees in your immediate community and take active steps, especially as youth, to safeguard natural forests.
Bio: Sister Faatimah Mansoor is a plant scientist from Johannesburg who has obtained her BSc Honours degree in Plant Sciences and Environment, Ecology and Conservation at the University of the Witwatersrand. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Plant Sciences focussing on the viability of long term storage of avocado genetic material. She is a top achiever in the scientific academia and an avid gardener. Faatimah is part of Green Deen South Africa’s professional network. She can be contacted via email on email@example.com.