Interview with Carlos Fonseca, ForestWISE, Portugal Chama

8 de March de 2023

1. Why was ForestWISE created – Collaborative Laboratory for Integrated Forest and Fire Management?

ForestWISE, like other entities such as AGIF, was created after the disastrous fires of 2017, responding to the gaps identified by the Independent Technical Commission created within the Portuguese Parliament, particularly those related to the appropriation and incorporation of scientific knowledge in the various intervention plans of the SGIFR. The Council of Ministers Resolution No. 159/2017 of 30 October supported the creation of this CoLAB and, through the mutual interest of industry, business, academia and public administration, in an unprecedented initiative in our country, ForestWISE was born. Its mission is to carry out (co)applied research, innovate and transfer knowledge and technology to increase the competitiveness of the forestry sector in Portugal, prevent major rural fires and reduce their negative consequences.

2. The reforms carried out in recent years have aimed to change the paradigm of how we face and confront the rural fire phenomenon. How does ForestWISE contribute to this?

ForestWISE, besides having a central role in co(generation) knowledge and its transfer, as well as technology and innovation for SGIFR, has the ability, through its multidisciplinary team, to monitor and add value to the knowledge generated in research centers. However, we are aware that the paradigm shift is gradual, medium-long term, not only based on structural and functional issues of the system, but also on cultural and human aspects that are usually more difficult to change. Hence, one of our lines of work is ‘People and Policies’, precisely to incorporate this component into the system, which we believe to be central to solving the phenomenon of large rural fires. Although we feel that there is enormous expectation about what ForestWISE can do, it will take time and persistence in public and private investments, well aligned strategically, for the impact in the country to be really felt.

3. What sets ForestWISE apart from other initiatives?
ForestWISE is a private non-profit association, constituted by a diversified associative structure, bringing together the main private, public and academic agents of our country. From the outset the most relevant companies in the forest and energy sectors in Portugal (Altri Florestal, Amorim Florestal, E-Redes, DS Smith Paper Viana, REN, Sonae Arauco and The Navigator Company), with common interests in the management and valorization of forest spaces, institutions of the National Scientific and Technological System (SCTN), such as the Universities of Aveiro, Coimbra, Évora, Lisbon (Instituto Superior de Agronomia), Trás os-Montes e Alto Douro and INESC TEC, and two public entities of great relevance in the themes of fire and forests, first of all the Agency for the Integrated Management of Rural Fires (AGIF) and the National Institute of Agrarian and Veterinary Research (INIAV) to which it will join, soon, the Portuguese Institute of the Sea and the Atmosphere (IPMA).
In addition to this strong associative structure, ForestWISE has a multidisciplinary executive team consisting of more than twenty Researchers and project managers, positioning itself, from the outset, as the national R&D&I entity with the most competences exclusively focused on the areas of forest and fire. Still, it should be noted that the executive team of ForestWISE began its functions only two years ago and only now is finishing the process of recruiting the base team, as well as the qualification of its human resources, which has not been easy because the market has absorbed all the available talent. Our daily operation is based on a Strategic Agenda for Research, Development and Innovation (R&D&I Agenda), which responds to the priorities and needs of our associates, multiple partners and the country, supporting national public policies in the areas of competence and activity of ForestWISE.
4. If you could choose a project that best represented the goals of ForestWISE, what would it be?
Among the projects that ForestWISE is currently involved in, I highlight rePLANT, a project co-led by The Navigator Company, supported by Compete/Portugal 2020 and which, in addition to including all the lines of work of ForestWISE that have emerged from the R&D&I agenda, focuses on the entire forest value chain, with a view to their valorization, but also their greater resilience to risks, such as rural fires. rePLANt is a mobilizing, collaborative project, integrating 20 partners, that will have an impact on the entire productive and business ecosystem of the forest sector, improving the safety of populations living in forest spaces, fire prevention and fighting systems, reducing threats to biodiversity and increasing the resilience of the forest and infrastructures and the competitiveness of the sector. As a project of national interest, rePLANT is aimed at researchers, producers and forest owners, public entities, companies in the sector and the general public, in a strand of general knowledge and appreciation of our forest.
5. How many projects does ForestWISE currently have in development?
In addition to the basic financing, promoted by Portugal 2020 (CCDR-N) and FCT, with the monitoring of ANI, ForestWISE currently has 11 projects in execution, among competitive projects, with national and international funding and services. The volume of projects we currently have contributed to the economic and financial sustainability of ForestWISE which is based on a model of 1/3 of basic public funding, 1/3 of public sources of a competitive, national and international nature and 1/3 of own revenues for service provision activities with companies and / or public administration, at local level, regional, national or international. In the two years of operation, ForestWISE’s turnover approached 4.5 million euros, for a total of more than 25 million euros of investment in projects in the areas of forests and fire. Currently, ForestWISE leads or co-leads large consortia under the PRR that will make a very significant contribution to the transformation of the forest sector in Portugal, including the valorization of its products, such as natural resin.
6. How important will effective cooperation between its members and partners be for ForestWISE?
I believe that the key to the success of ForestWISE, as a Collaborative Laboratory, is this, to serve as a structure of cooperation and collaboration between associates of different natures, but with common objectives: to improve forest management and valorization, which is implicit in the reduction of risks, among which rural fires have a decisive role in our country. In addition to the network of 15 associates, ForestWISE brings together a number of partners, especially the SGIFR entities (ICNF, GNR, ANEPC, DGT, CCDRs, CIMs, among others) and integrates international networks and consortiums, of which I highlight Copernicus Relays.
Over the last two years, ForestWISE has been assuming itself as an aggregator and “bridge-maker” entity that, with independence and professionalism, has been able to respond to the challenges that are thrown at it, supporting the construction of public policies in its areas of competence. Still, we have the perception that the construction of an institution with companies, universities, R&D institutes and public entities as associates, in a completely new model, is a permanent challenge, but generating enormous potential for the country.
7. What is the relevance of the fact that ForestWISE is installed outside Lisbon?
ForestWISE has a national scope, driven by demand, so the fact that its headquarters is located in the north of the country, on the UTAD Campus, one of the most relevant national entities in the areas of forest and fire, can be considered strategic, with all the advantages and challenges that this entails. ForestWISE currently has a delegation in Porto and it is possible that it will have other delegations spread throughout the country. I have no doubt that ForestWISE will grow significantly in the short-medium term, and this growth, which is intended to be gradual and sustained, may pass through new locations, where our associates have implementation and, above all, where there are projects relevant to the forest and fire that lack the skills of our CoLAB.

In, Portugal Chama, 8 March 2023 (PT)