Welcoming the new head of Chair of Tropical and International Forestry: A Q&A session with Prof. Lukas Giessen

In October this year, we had the transition from Prof. Jürgen Pretzsch to Prof. Lukas Giessen. As the new head of the institute, we asked Prof. Lukas Giessen a few questions to learn more about him and the new perspectives for the institute. We started by asking him to tell us what he did before he joined the institute in Tharandt. 


Lukas Giessen was born in Wiesbaden, in the area of Frankfurt am Main. After finishing high school, he was not sure what to study, but he decided to choose an area in which the majority of sciences were represented. So, he went for “Forest Engineering” in Göttingen, where he was acquainted with various disciplines from physics, wood technology to governance, among others. Afterwards, he pursued his master’s degree in Sustainable Forestry and Land Use Management at the University of Freiburg and a Ph.D. in Forest Policy in Göttingen University.

In 2004, he joined the FAO in Rome as a consultant in the department of sustainable development. It was there that one of his first milestones came: his first son, which made him decide to return to Göttingen as a researcher with the Chair of Forest and Nature Conservation Policy.

Under the daily supervision of Prof. Michael Böcher and the scientific supervision of Prof. Max Krott he did his Ph.D. in forest governance and sustainable development within a project supervised by Professor Karl Hogl, from BOKU University. Before his third child arrived, he finished his Ph.D. in four and a half years. After completing his Ph.D., he prepared a proposal for a project on “Forest Fragmentation of International Institutions”. While the decision was pending, he developed another proposal in Wageningen, but in the meantime other milestones were achieved: the birth of his fourth child and the acceptance of the proposal. This made the family return to Germany and he started leading the research group on “Fragmentation of the International Forest Regime”, which gave him independency and allowed him to have a seed capital.

In 2012, at the age of 34, the group that he was leading was consolidated with an international team from Germany, Bangladesh, Argentina, Indonesia, Cameroon, Brazil and Sweden. Some of them will contribute to teach the module “Forest Related Development Policy and Culture” in our MSc course. 

In 2017 he pursued his career at the European Forest Institute (EFI) in Bonn on the Governance Program, with the vision of “apply by doing“. EFI represents the bridge to put policies into practice. Finally, in 2020, he became the successor of the Chair of Tropical and International Forestry.

How did you become the Editor-in-Chief of Forest Policy and Economics?

“It started in 2007 while I was doing my Ph.D. I got engaged through Prof Max Krott, who was my mentor and in 2008 I was guest editor. It’s a position where it can be difficult to reject papers as this represents a decisive part of people’s careers, but it also allows me to have a complete and current overview of the field of forest policy and economics.”

Did you imagine being professor?

“Being a professor yes, but not of a tropical forestry institute”. This came as a surprise to many, he said.

When you came you introduced yourself to the students and the colleagues as Lukas, why not be addressed as a Professor?

“Learn to listen to natural authority and this authenticity is higher”. This also comes from his North America experience where people call their professors directly by their first names. “There we used to work in informal address”. “To the Ph.D. candidates, I prefer to call them colleagues, not Ph.D. students. They already have been students for a long time.

Where do you see the institute in the long-term?

“I took over a varied, lively and healthy institute; this was due to Prof. Pretzsch. He ran a very successful trace with strong practical aspects of forest development in the Global South. The vision is to compliment a successful line of research for development with a rigorous program of fundamental research on forest governance which can largely benefit from the real-world aspects of the more real applied development. As a social scientist, you need to know that what you measure is real, as you have a view to the real world. A vision of forest multilateralism, improved livelihoods, power perception, strong successful analytical forest politics program and go local and learn and have new chances to apply in new contexts.”

What is your message for future forestry professionals? 

“Internationalization lies in agriculture and forestry. Learn how to go international, how to stay in Germany if you are not in the matrix of the forestry network”

“To young people: be brave enough to challenge conventional wisdom and making it pendulum, with a reasonable boundary, not by taking things to the extremes.”

Where would you be right now if there was no corona restriction?

“Of course here in Tharandt!”

What is your favorite forest landscape? 

Every forest landscapes. I like many landscapes especially forests. But I do not have a favorite one especially if it is forested. Actually, I do not have a favorite color, nor a favorite meal”.

What is your favorite forest product and why? 

“Honey! Maybe because it is an underestimated product that comes from a forest.”

Why did you decide to have the walls in the institute re-painted?

“In German there is a sentence “Ein neuer Wind geht durch die Halle“. It’s a philosophical meaning for a change. And well, you’re still asking me this? – He laughed – after all the forgotten objects and papers that were found…”.

Lukas.Giessen.and.the.master.students.during.the.welcome.event.on.October.2020 (©K. Hintz)

By Gabriela Huidobro

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