The forestry sector is pivotal in Lithuania’s economy and nature protection systems, necessitating innovation and technological advancement. Establishing a center of excellence in smart forestry within Lithuania marks a crucial move towards attracting investments, fostering business partnerships, exploring international opportunities, and driving economic growth. Dr. K. Firkavičiūtė believes, ‘Similar centers like FOREST 4.0 already exist in Germany, Sweden, and Finland. Collaborating with such partners, Lithuania can facilitate the smoother and more proactive development of innovations in this field, participate in research and innovation programs and discussions, and bolster itself economically.’

The Digitization of the Sector: A Key Indicator of Progress

Winning funding for FOREST 4.0 stands as one of Lithuania’s most noteworthy achievements in pursuit of the goal to enhance the added economic value of the forestry sector. Its significance is magnified by being the first successful initiative in Lithuania to establish a ‘Teaming for Excellence’ center, securing a substantial €20 million grant from the EU’s Horizon Europe program in collaboration with Lithuania.

The project’s objective is to cultivate a center of excellence focused on forestry and the digitalization of the circular economy. This endeavor is poised to tackle future challenges in forest management and contribute significantly to the advancement of sustainable and innovative forestry practices.

A representative from the EC’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation presented a crucial perspective on the project during the first meeting of FOREST 4.0 partners, highlighting its significance not only for Lithuania but also for Europe as a whole.

“The establishment of this center of excellence in Lithuania marks a significant leap in research and innovation. It stands as a great honor and, most importantly, as recognition that Lithuania is actively engaged in enhancing the forestry sector and promoting sustainable forest management. In essence, the country is showcasing its commitment and endeavors towards fostering a sustainable forestry sector and embracing innovative technologies,” stated K. Firkavičiūtė.

In the broader European context, as she said, the successful implementation of FOREST 4.0 has the potential to serve as a model for other nations and partners to follow suit by establishing or fortifying centers of excellence at the national level: “This collaborative effort contributes to the advancement of a unified European Research Area and the sustainable development of various sectors.”

The EU Program Bolsters Country’s Competitiveness

As per K. Firkavičiūtė, the EU actively fosters innovation, research, and technology advancement across Europe, including within the forestry sector. Among these initiatives, Horizon Europe stands out as the foremost program supporting FOREST 4.0.

This program equips stakeholders with tools to facilitate interdisciplinary and transnational collaboration and partnerships among researchers, businesses, and the public sector across various countries. The aim is to uncover innovative and effective solutions for intricate challenges, which EC policy official identifies as a primary focus of the EU Program.

“Horizon Europe stands as the primary funding mechanism for science and innovation within the EU. Securing funding through the ‘Teaming for Excellence’ initiative has afforded Lithuania the opportunity to engage in an international project and collaborate with top-tier European researchers and institutions in its chosen field. This endeavor significantly enhances the country’s scientific capabilities, cultivates an international network, attracts investments, and harnesses the potential of research and innovation,” claimed K. Firkavičiūtė.

In Lithuania, the project has taken root in the incredibly promising ground, bolstered by a dedicated effort to fortify research, innovative solutions, and entrepreneurial culture within the forestry sector.

“Through active participation in Horizon Europe, the national institutions are showcasing their dedication to constructing an innovative, knowledge-driven economy that holds its own in the global arena. FOREST 4.0 possesses the substantial potential to synergize research, technological innovation, and business opportunities, ultimately propelling the forestry sector’s growth and optimizing outcomes,” said the EC policy official.

Summarizing her insights on FOREST 4.0 and Horizon Europe, K. Firkavičiūtė highlighted the overarching vision for both Lithuania and Europe in the realm of research and innovation.

“Europe is in perpetual pursuit of fortifying research, directing substantial attention and funding toward bolstering the competence, skills, collaboration, and capabilities of its scientific institutions and individuals. The ‘Teaming for Excellence’ initiative is specifically designed to amplify these capacities through the establishment of novel or revitalized research centers,” she said.

These centers, as K. Firkavičiūtė explained, are envisioned to not only catalyze advancements in specific scientific domains but also to catalyze enhancements in administrative quality, legal frameworks, and management practices within a nation. Additionally, these centers are expected to foster heightened collaboration with the public sector.

“Consequently, the Lithuanian forestry sector finds itself presented with an expansive range of opportunities, but concurrently, it bears the responsibility to evolve, expand, and refine its operations, thereby fostering transformative change throughout Lithuania,” stated K. Firkavičiūtė.

The EC’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation conducts its activities in collaboration with EU institutions, Member States, and other stakeholders across the realms of science, technology, and innovation. Lithuania actively monitors, analyzes, and shapes its position at the European level in these domains, aspiring not only to align with the most advanced nations but also to position itself as one of them.