Today we are celebrating the European Cooperation Day, held every year on the 21st of September, to commemorate the essential collaboration of citizens and organizations across borders. But what is the importance of cross-border cooperation programmes for us and our region?
Today is the European Cooperation Day, or EC Day in short, held every year on the 21st of September. The idea of the day is to celebrate the collaboration of citizens and organizations across borders, and even more importantly to remind people how essential it is for the development of border regions for there to be cooperation across national borders. More than 10 billion euros are allocated by the European Union to different cooperation programmes, such as the Interreg or ENI CBC Programmes – quite a significant amount to be granted for improving the livelihoods of regions, don’t you think?
We at Arbonaut are operating in Joensuu, in the proximity of the Finnish – Russian border. It is actually less than 80 kilometers, or a one-hour drive, from our headquarters to the closest border station in Niirala. That might get you thinking that it is no problem at all doing business across the border, especially for a company specialized in forestry. After all, the Russian Federation owns immense forest resources; it is said to be the home of more than one-fifth of the world’s forests.
However, it is not always that simple in reality. There needs to be a better understanding of cultural differences, operational environments, the economy, and the needs of the stakeholders in the neighboring region. That is why EU funded programmes are vital – they do not only help financially, but also build long-lasting relationships between organizations that are committed to work towards developing the regions. CBC programmes facilitate the right kind of environment, and also mindset, for organizations to efficiently work towards a common objective across national borders.
Securing access to our valuable forest resources – now and in the future
Since Arbonaut is located in the Finnish Karelian region, we are most familiar with the Karelia CBC Programme. The latest addition to our Karelia CBC project references is Access2Forest, a project that started at the beginning of 2020 and is led by Business Joensuu. Access2Forest is a collaboration of six different organizations, four of which are located in Finland (Business Joensuu, Finnish Forest Centre, Riveria Vocational College & Arbonaut), and two in Russian Karelia (Lesnoe Bureau Partner & Forest Holding Company Karellesprom). The project aims to create advanced technology and knowledge regarding forest road construction and maintenance planning – to be eventually used both in Finland and Russia.
The challenges regarding forest road networks are quite distinct in the two countries. In Finland, not many kilometers of new roads are being built annually anymore, as there is already an extensive road network covering most of the country. However, maintaining a network as extensive as this, takes up quite a lot of resources – human, raw material, and financial. Not to mention how crucial it would be to have information on the conditions of the network; it is after all the best way to prioritize the resources on hand to the right places! In turn in Russia, there are still many areas without road network coverage, and a lot of new forest roads are being built every year. In many places, there is simply not enough accurate baseline data to optimize the planning process and to make long-lasting decisions for roads to last for decades.
The objective of the Access2Forest project is to offer better tools and data for road planning, irrespective if it is about optimizing the construction process or maintenance operations. The project includes, for example, the development of a new type of demo tools for road planning and maintenance activities, providing trainings related to stakeholders on both sides of the border, and the dissemination of knowledge by improving publicly available training materials. In respect of the different challenges regarding forest road networks in these neighboring countries, the activities in Russia will be especially focused on improved planning and building processes of roads (while ensuring that the roads will remain useable for years to come of course). When it comes to Finland, the ways to tackle road maintenance ‘debt’, with for example better baseline data, will be further studied.
At Arbonaut we believe that most forest operations would benefit from better background data. Hence, in this project, our role is to work towards more accurate data for decision-making, which can be utilized both in the office in the planning stage, as well as in the field when the construction process is ongoing. Two pilot sites were chosen for the project – one in our project partner’s lease area in Russian Karelia, and one in the region of North Karelia in Finland. Our task is to research available data from different sources and process this data into usable map layers. So far, our team has been able to combine terrain data with the available forest information, topographic data, and soil data into a usable road planning tool to be used in the Russian pilot area. Hence, we are eagerly waiting to hear about our partner’s experiences in using this new data as a base for road plans carried out this summer and autumn!
Creating value for people and businesses
So what is the importance of cross-border cooperation programmes for Arbonaut then? It is not only that we feel that we have the right expertise to improve capacities regarding forest road technology with this project, but also because we as a company are taking a step forward, enhancing our organization’s and team members’ experience and knowledge. Most importantly, we wish to be an active participant in developing our home region – together with our neighbors.
Let’s take this opportunity to celebrate European Cooperation Day and acknowledge all the great deeds that can be accomplished when working together!
Access2Forest project is funded by the European Union, Russian Federation, and the Republic of Finland.