What has happened with the project since its end date?
After almost one year from its completion, UFIL is still very much alive. Since its closure at the end of October 2022 and using the same project name and brand developed for the UIA, UFIL has been running free workshops and seminars as well as awareness raising events on the importance of forests for local development. Examples of topics addressed in the seminars/workshops include circular economy, use of drones and LIDAR technologies for inventory and other forest management practices. In addition, companies, entrepreneurs or freelancers may request using the laboratory that was developed and equipped during the project time frame (the request form is available online).
Finally, and most importantly, UFIL still operates its training programme in forest bioeconomy. In the post-project period, the first call for new participants in the training course is now open up to 9 October 2023. The downloadable programme of the course shows some important differences compared to the course implemented during the project, the most evident being the length. The new course will only be 8 weeks long (versus the 10 months implemented during the project) and mostly based on remote learning modality. Lessons will be limited to 1.5 days every 2 weeks. These changes are expected to make participation in the course easier for those persons already committed to other jobs or studies. The course will support the development of 15 entrepreneurial projects related to forest bioeconomy. At the end of the course, the best three projects will receive a money prize (€15,000, €10,000 and €5,000, respectively).
The course is organised by a public consortium including the Municipality of Cuenca, the Cuenca Provincial Council and the University of Castilla La Mancha. The teaching and tutoring is provided by four organisations that were partners in the UFIL project, namely the University of Castilla La Mancha, the Business Confederation of Cuenca, the Forest Stewardship Council and the Polytechnic University of Madrid. Other supporting organisations include Cuenca Council Wood SA, Globalcaja and PRODESE. The latter is the Local Action Group of Serranía de Cuenca. It started collaborating with UFIL during the project time frame and reflects an attempt to better embed UFIL actions into the territory.
What is the project’s plan for long-term sustainability
UFIL shaped its future and the future of a forest-based bioeconomy within the province of Cuenca in its ‘Urban-rural agenda of Cuenca’. The agenda brings the ambitions of the UIA project forward, up to 2030. This project document is presented and discussed in my last web article ‘Urban-rural agenda of Cuenca: the way forward to 2030’ published in September 2023. Within the agenda, Action 10 ‘Entrepreneurial hub in forest bioeconomy’ is about the consolidation of UFIL. Together with all the other actions foreseen in the agenda, the implementation of Action 10 is under the responsibility of a newly established governing body that is based on a cooperation protocol. As at August 2023, the protocol and the governing body were agreed and participated in by the City of Cuenca and the University of Castilla-La Mancha. Other actors including the other partners from the UFIL project are expected to join in the near future. In the short term, consolidation of UFIL as well as other complementing activities are financially supported through public grants. More specifically, the Municipality of Cuenca managed to mobilise €650,000 through the following arrangements:
An agreement between the City Council of Cuenca and the University of Castilla La Mancha makes available €250,000 for the carry out of activities such as conferences, seminars and meetings, as well as for the new training course taking place over the period October-December 2023.
Cuenca Provincial Council provides a public grant of €200,000 to carry out various support activities in the forest sector such as the promotion of associations among forest owners and the implementation of technological projects (e.g., on the traceability of wood).
A public grant of €200,000 from the Industrial Organization School of the Ministry of Industry, under the ‘Promotion of the Innovative Entrepreneurial Ecosystem’ programme, is used to consolidate the relationship with the investors involved in the UFIL project during the years 2021 and 2022. In particular, from September to December 2023, several meetings will be held within the framework of Cuenca Bioeconomy Business Market. Specific events with large companies are also planned to mobilize the market for ecosystem forest services and forest certification.
For the medium term (2024-2025), UFIL plans to keep on relying on public grants. In particular, Cuenca City Council, FSC, the University of Castilla La Mancha, PRODESE and the Forestry Association of Soria (ASFOSO) are expecting to shortly receive €2 million from a program supporting transformative projects for the promotion of a forest-based bioeconomy. The programme is managed by the Spanish Biodiversity Foundation and the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge. In addition, UFIL (represented by the Cuenca City Council) participates in the RECONECTA project led by the Forestry Association of Soria. RECONECTA aims to reverse the situation of abandonment of many of the private forests in the provinces of Soria, Cuenca and Teruel, by reconnecting forest owners to their properties and by promoting associated forms of sustainable forest management.