FAO launches Open Foris software to monitor forests

The open source, free-to-use software was successfully used in pilot projects in 10 countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America; it can change the way nations monitor the state of their forests and contribute in the global fight against climate change

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Thursday 16 October 2014

The soft ware is being described as a ‘game changer’ (Image courtesy FAO)

Timely and accurate information on the state of forest resources is extremely important for effective implementation of sustainable forest management through well-informed national and local policy and planning.  An up-to-date forest inventory is also essential for meeting current and future international reporting commitments such as FAO Global Forest Resource Assessment and UNFCCC greenhouse gas reporting and, potentially, REDD+ MRV.

The  United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has, therefore, launched Open Foris, which has free software tools that will help countries to compile comprehensive forest inventories and assist nations in understanding the value of their forest assets. These tools have been designed to change the way nations monitor the state of their forests and improve the data needed to develop strategies for reducing deforestation and effective climate mitigation action plans.

“Open Foris” tools were released at the 24th World Congress of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) in Salt Lake City of Utah in the US. This conference, on the theme of “Sustaining Forests, Sustaining People: The Role of Research” that concluded on October 11,   was the largest global scientific conference on forests, attended by over 2,500 forest scientists and researchers from all over the world.

“Forests and trees play a critical role in the sustainable development of human societies worldwide. This conference takes place one year before a new United Nation’s post-2015 development agenda will be launched and Sustainable Development Goals come into effect (See ‘Targets and Indicators for the Post 2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals’. “Forests and their appropriate management are crucial to achieving these goals, and for this endeavour we need the best available knowledge and a solid base of scientific forest data,” said John Parrotta, IUFRO officeholder and chair of the Congress Scientific Committee at the event.

Last year, 197 countries came together at the United Nations Forum on Forests and had stressed on the important role of data collection and management for sustainable forest management systems.

How critical is forest inventory

An up-to-date and accurate forest database and inventory is critical for sustainable management of natural resources, but nearly 80 per cent of developing countries have difficulty obtaining and using basic information about their forest resources, says FAO. Without this knowledge it is very difficult to develop effective forest policies to combat deforestation and forest degradation or to advance national climate change strategies, explains Eduardo Rojas-Briales, assistant director-general for forestry in a press release.

So, it is extremely essential for countries to know about the forests that they actually have, the amount of carbon that they contain and how much is lost, says Anssy Pekkarinen, forestry Officer, FAO.

Game changer

According to Rojas-Briales, Open Foris will be a game changer. It is the first comprehensive open source tool that will not only guide the countries through the whole process of data collection and analysis but will also encourage and facilitate open knowledge sharing in an innovative way, he says. Improved access to information with transparency will help the policy makers obtain information that is extremely critical for informed decisions, he adds.

Open Foris tools are already being successfully tested in more than 10 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Ecuador and Tanzania completed their first national forest inventories with the help of Open Foris tools. Vietnam carries out a national forest inventory every five years, and for the first time is trying Open Foris by adapting it in Vietnamese language to meet local needs. Forest scientists and experts in Argentina, Bhutan, Papua New Guinea and Uruguay have also been trained by FAO on using different components of this software.

Knowledge-building for natural resource management

Open Foris tools are useful for government, research institutions and NGOs for a wide range of monitoring purposes, such as forest inventories, climate change reporting, socio-economic surveys, biodiversity assessment and land use change.

Forest Inventory experts, researchers, knowledge managers and even policy makers can benefit and are encouraged to participate in the global workshops being organised by FAO in collaboration with regional partners. To find out time and venue, check this link http://www.openforis.org/events.html.

Investment needed for creating requisite manpower

Sustaining such smart and innovative data and knowledge management softwares/systems for sustainable forest management will undoubtedly need skilled and smart manpower –a band of game-changing knowledge managers (with domain knowledge) and ICT specialists– and calls for commitment and strategic action plan from national and international organisations.

Improving the forests database to support sustainable forest management

Forest Governance 2.0 : A Primer on ICTs and Governance (with Case studies)

State of the world's forests 2014: enhancing the socioeconomic benefits from forests

The Role of Information Systems in Sustainable Forest Management: Comparison and Future Direction

Sustainable data is needed for sustainable development : MDG Report 2014

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