Here's how we can fill gaps in forestry data

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has released guidelines to monitor forest resources

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 04 August 2017
Understanding forest resources and how they change is key to address climate change (Credit: Loren Kerns/Flickr)
Understanding forest resources and how they change is key to address climate change (Credit: Loren Kerns/Flickr) Understanding forest resources and how they change is key to address climate change (Credit: Loren Kerns/Flickr)

In 2010, only 45 countries worldwide were able to assess changes in forest area and characteristics through consecutive systematic national forest inventories. This data is likely to be incomplete.

To fill a serious gap in information and facilitate informed policy decisions, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has released a set of guidelines to monitor forest resources. They “provide good practices, and a framework and tools for planning and implementing multi-purpose national forest monitoring” as per Eva Muller, Director of Forestry Policies and Resources Division at FAO.

“Understanding forest resources and how they change is key to address climate change and make progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals,” she added.

As per the report, “National forest monitoring (NFM) is a comprehensive process that includes the assessment, evaluation, interpretation and reporting of data and the derivation of information, usually from repeated inventories, that allows for the monitoring of change and trends over time.”

NFM systems will be a part of global schemes (including UN’s REDD) that pay for environmental services: countries will receive financial compensation for implementing sustainable pro-forest policies.

Gaps in data

FAO’s guidelines will address information gaps about the location of forests, their extent and composition, their ownership, biomass, carbon diversity and site fertility. It will state the quality and vitality of forests. The guidelines also seek to understand human dependence of forests: who benefits or depends on them, how much of the forest produce is being used. The threats to forests will be chalked out to calculate their sustainability. Long term data analysis will mark changes in forests, decipher trends and the factors governing them.

How to ensure better forest monitoring

National forest monitoring has two dimensions:  the technology and science of producing credible data, and policies to enable it. Technology-driven approaches to comprehensive data collection should be avoided, unless their effectiveness can be proven.

The FAO lists some governance-related principles that can enable long-term forest management.

National ownership: The guidelines suggest national ownership of forest monitoring, meaning it should be considered a standard data collection activity of governments. This is key for sustainability and to pave the way for a more comprehensive usage of the information generated. The FAO report points out that lack of country ownership was a major failure of early forest inventory and monitoring efforts, carried out by many donor and international agencies in the 1960-80s. It says that lack of country ownership will likely result in missing awareness among governments, that are unwilling or unable to invest in the project.

Legal: Defining a legal and policy may help to establish a formal link between the national forest monitoring system and a national forest programme, if such exists. This approach also supports country ownership.

Institutionalising forest monitoring: Forestry is long-term in nature, and thus requires long-term structure implemented through a permanent institution. A properly equipped national level institute, within the national administration, can promote long-term availability of data, adequate data management and availability of expertise.

Additionally, a national survey requires a research infrastructure in order to be successfully implemented.

The FAO also recommends a systematic impact assessment of the forest monitoring process to streamline improvement of the NFM system and to analyse its overall usefulness.

The immediate outcome of a NFMS is data, either collected in the field or obtained using remote-sensing data sources at specified intervals, from which targeted information regarding the current status and changes is derived for decision-making purposes, the guidelines state.

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