The origins of EFI

In the late 1980s, Matti Pekkanen, then Director of the Central Association of Finnish Forest Industries, developed an idea to use the Finnish reputation in forests to create an international activity to serve the needs of policy makers and industry.

By 1990 the idea was on paper, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in Finland took an active part in planning such an organisation. After many meetings and a lot of correspondence, in 1991 the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry decided to launch a preparatory project. Risto Seppälä from the Finnish Forest Research Institute took the lead, supported by a group of 14 members representing different aspects of forest research and forestry. He spent two years promoting the idea of an institute and managing the process of selecting a name and location, gathering a strong support group across Europe and elsewhere behind the idea.

In 1993, it was time to establish the institute at its permanent location in Joensuu, Finland, and to find its first director. The Dean of the Faculty of Forestry of the University of Joensuu (now the University of Eastern Finland), Risto Päivinen was invited to be the first Acting Director, assisted by a small team (Pentti Hyttinen, Leena Salminen and Anu Ruusila). An Interim Board was established, and in August 1993 three brainstorming teams gathered at the EFI headquarters in Joensuu to formulate what would become EFI’s three research programmes: forest resources, forest policy, and forest ecology and management. 

Interim Board of EFI with staff members, 1993
The Interim Board of EFI with staff members, 12 February 1993

By September 1993, the launch of the institute was possible. The Act of Constitution of EFI was signed by 12 founding members on 9 September 1993. The first Director, Birger Solberg took up his post, and EFI began to build its research programme.

Risto Päivinen, 1993 “Starting up EFI was a challenging task. We had eight months to find the founding members for the institute, and a competent Director from abroad. I still remember the demanding emptiness of the handsome building of the Finnish Bank, waiting for international researchers.

My job as Acting Director was a missionary’s job, spreading the gospel of EFI. There was plenty of support for the idea, but also many doubtful faces as I was trying to convince colleagues in Brussels, or during the Ministerial Conference in Helsinki about the need for international collaboration in forest research. Of great support was the Interim Board, especially Chair Paavo Pelkonen, Tim Peck, Pekka Patosaari in the ministry and the committed staff at EFI.”
Risto Päivinen