Weighing forest conservation and need

Forests of his youth drive a passion for trees

When Cornelius Motsa got the call to his home in Swaziland that he was accepted into UBC’s Forestry program and was the winner of an International Leader of Tomorrow (ILOT) Award, the first thing out of his mouth was: “What trees grow in British Columbia?”

Having grown up on a farm and with grandparents who were involved in community forestry projects, Motsa’s passion for trees started at a young age.  In rural Swaziland, Motsa’s grandparents grew trees for their own personal use, for fuel and for making furniture.

“I grew up in an environment where forests are an immensely important resource, where we use wood to make charcoal for cooking,” says Motsa.

But as he grew up, Motsa noticed a depletion of the forest resources. A growing population and rising fuel prices were driving more people to use wood from the forests.

“Areas that had been forested when I was a child became completely bare,” he explains.

Motsa, a self-described “farm boy,” knew it was a problem to consume more than was produced and he grew interested in learning more about sustainable forest management.  After high school, he moved to CapeTown in South Africa to attend the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and become a forester.

While he was studying in Cape Town, one of Motsa’s professors came to UBC as a visiting scholar. When he returned to the school and recognized Motsa’s passion for learning about forest sustainability, he encouraged Motsa to pursue studies at UBC. The 29-year-old ended up in the forest engineering program.

Now that he is finished his studies, Motsa is hoping to secure a job that will take him back to southern Africa.  He’s interviewing with global environmental organizations and will work as a manager of forest and logging operations.

“My goal has always been to go to where this knowledge is needed and it makes sense to go back to the community I came from,” he says.  “Success comes with responsibility.”

Motsa hopes to prevent further depletion of forest resources by providing communities with information about conservation.

“There will always be a conflict between the economy and environment,” says Motsa. “I call myself a resource politician because I understand that you have to compromise and try to find benefits for each side.”

As excited as he is to start work, Motsa will miss Vancouver and UBC. He’s made great friends and joined a number of clubs and organizations.  He is part of the Forestry Undergraduate Society, the Logger Sports Team, the African Awareness Society, he plays soccer and he volunteers with Go Global.

Motsa has really enjoyed volunteering with Go Global; he gives awareness classes to UBC students who are going to Africa through programs offered by Go Global.

“Some students have this stereotype where they think they are going to Africa to help and to improve things,” says Motsa. “I try to change this idea and explain that they are going to Africa to have conversations and establish a dialogue about the problems facing the communities they visit.”

Motsa says it is rewarding when he meets up with students after they’ve returned from Africa and he can see that their perceptions have been changed.

When he gets back home, Motsa is excited to start looking for ways to bring what he has learned at UBC to the forests of Swaziland and southern Africa.  He plans to work with communities and decide how best to grow and use the forests.  Whether it is by planting faster-growing tree species or replacing wood with another fuel, Motsa says he will work to find solutions because he lives for the idea of sustainable forest management.

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