According to an old Finnish saying, men fear the end of the forests and women the end of the world. Maybe both of those fears walk together, as the loss of forests might lead to the actual end of times. But Finland has been a righteous preserver of its own future.
Forests cover over 75 % of Finland's surface area, being the country with most forests in Europe. Historically, forests have been essential to Finnish people, offering protection, nutrition, and a possibility for livelihood. From the economic, environmental, social, and cultural points of view, forests are Finland's most important natural feature.
Finns consider forestry and forest industries to be essential sectors for their economy and the environment. The particularly close relationship between Finns and their forests is explained by widespread forest ownership (with almost one family in five owning a piece of the forest) and free access for people according to The Everyman's Rights.
Even though agroforestry is often not immediately associated with cool climatic zones, it has a long tradition in Finland too. Examples include reindeer husbandry and forest products, such as berries, mushrooms, wild herbs, and birch sap. Lif is one international company exporting this natural water, filled with nutrients. "In spring, there is a window of time to tap the tree, which is about three weeks, and closes once the leaves of the birch tree start to appear. After this, the water becomes bitter due to the presence of chlorophyll. The tapping is done by drilling a hole into the trunk, which does not harm the tree's health. It is a sustainable process," says Filipe Noguera.
Over the last couple of years, agroforestry has increased in interest from Finnish farmers. The cultivation of mushrooms is a promising way of generating additional income from farmland forests. Kääpä Biotech is one of the companies invested in taking the best of the Finnish forests and committed to sustainability. Their tinctures, made from five different mushrooms grown in forests in Uusimaa and Lapland, are part of the wellness industry.
Finns live among their forests. Urban citizens remain in contact with the countryside, at least during the summer. Repeated studies have shown that outdoor recreation in the forest is considered one of Finland's most important leisure activities. However, changes in society and migration into towns over the past few decades have diminished this contact. Otso Mursula, commercial director of Kääpa Biotech, says that "some people are growing apart from forests, it's something that's increasing now in Finland, not being able to go to the forests, and pick mushrooms. So biotech products (such as the company's tinctures) are also helping this connection."
Indeed, the connection between Finns and the forests comes from thousands of years. The uses of forests have, prior to 1900, focused on slash-and-burn agriculture, shipbuilding materials, construction, and agriculture. After 1900 however, it shifted to wood-based pulp and paper production. The destruction of forests was prohibited in Finland by the first Forest Act in 1886, contributing to Finland's extremely high-level forestry-related expertise. As a result, recently, there have been innovations in wood processing that differ from those traditional uses of forests.
Woodly is one of them, a company pioneer in wood-based plastics. Its products are currently 40-60 % bio-based, using pulp made of conifer trees. The main difference between bio-based plastics and traditional ones is not only the increase of renewability but also the zero-emission of pollutants. Traditional plastic is made of fossil raw material, and the process creates carbon dioxide. Whereas bio-based plastics, such as Woodly, no additional gas is released to the earth. "Trees take in carbon dioxide out of the air and bind it. When these trees are used into making Woodly material, the same carbon dioxide stays bound in our product," says Maria Aksela, Marketing Manager of the company.
It's primarily important to remember that the principles of forest management in Finland are sustainability, closeness to nature, and how people relate to it, culturally. The Finnish identity can't be separated from their forests, a connection that goes further and deeper than just agriculture and forestry, but rooted in their own selves.
Photo by Tapio Haaja on Unsplash