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General assessment of current forest products statistics

Broad differences among national information systems

Based on the country reports (see this volume), there is considerable variation in the development of forestry information systems. In this regard the following three broad groups can be identified:

I. Several countries in Asia – mostly comprising the middle-income countries, have reasonably well-developed information systems, including skilled human resources. Most forestry activities take place in the formal sector (public and private), making it easy to keep track of the different activities, irrespective of the actors involved. There is also better coordination between the different agencies and organizations involved in the collection and analysis of data and dissemination of information. This enables the effective capture of relevant data and makes information easily accessible. More detailed features of this group are as follows:

II. Numerous countries have fragmented information systems with several agencies collecting data (at times duplicating efforts), but with inadequate efforts to share, validate and analyse them. Much of the problem stems from the lack of information sharing resulting from poor communication and coordination and frequent inter-agency rivalries and conflicts. More detailed features of this group are as follows:

III. The third group comprises countries with poorly developed information systems or no system at all. This is particularly the case where forestry is dominated by informal activities. The fact that most activities (e.g. collection and trade of woodfuel including charcoal and sawmilling) are informal generally indicates a poorly developed formal economy. Obviously, key government agencies lack the human, material and financial resources to collect data efficiently and to develop and manage a reliable information system. Another factor that distorts national statistics on wood production and trade is a preponderance of illegal logging in a number of countries in the region.

Illegal logging in Indonesia

Since the Asian economic crisis, illegal logging has increased dramatically and may have resulted in underestimation of roundwood production as suggested by the fact that recorded roundwood production is lower than demand. According to MOF (2002) annual roundwood demand is around 63.48 million m3, whilst production is only 23.98 million m3. It is assumed that illegal logging plays a significant role in filling the 39.50 million m3 gap. In addition, illegally harvested roundwood also finds it way to neighbouring countries such Malaysia and China.

Source: Indonesia country report

More detailed features of this group are as follows:

The level of effort required to improve information systems in each of the above groups – especially in category II and III – varies considerably depending on the current state of the economy and the existing level of human and other resources available for collecting, processing, and analysing data and disseminating information.

Institutional complexity and diminishing roles of government agencies in forestry statistics

Based on the variety of products and services provided by forestry and the divergent demands placed on forests, the nature of information required for sustainable forest management has become highly complex. A range of responses can be seen by governments and other agencies in the context of increasing complexity of institutions involved in forestry statistics. The situation in Thailand is outlined in the following box.

Complexity of institutions involved in forestry data collection

Data is collected from the following organisations and departments:

Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operative: Royal Forest Department, Office of Agriculture Economics, The Forest Industry Organisation, The Thai Plywood Company Limited;

Ministry of Finance: The Customs Department, Ministry of Commerce, Department of Export Promotion;

Ministry of Industry: Department of Industrial Promotion;

Ministry of Science Technology and Environment: Department of Energy Development and Promotion;

Universities: Faculty of Forestry Kasetsart University, Faculty of Commerce and Accountancy, University of Chulalongkorn;

Association; The Thai Furniture Industries Association, The Thai Parawood Association, Paper and pulp Association, The Federation of Thai Industries;

Private sector: The Siam Cement Group;

‘Rubberwood Utilisation and Marketing in Thailand’ Project supported by ITTO.

Source: Thailand country report


Decentralisation and devolution of forest resource management has made it considerably more difficult for the public sector/governmental agencies to collect data and to report on wood production, processing and trade, not to mention non-wood forest products and environmental services. The roles of governmental agencies in forestry statistics have been diminishing.

Data flows in forestry

In most countries in the region, data on forest products production are obtained from periodic reports from license and permit holders monitored by regional and field offices. Administrative recording systems are most commonly used for official forest statistics. There are two general models that characterize the flow of data: the vertical data flow model and the network model. The vertical data flow model has the following features:

Mechanisms used to ensure vertical flow of data:

The flow of forest industry information in Malaysia

Statistics on wood-based industries such as sawmills, plywood/veneer mills, and moulding mills are collected on a monthly basis by the District Forest Offices. These mills are required, by condition of their licences, to keep records of the number of removal passes, the date of timber entry into the mill, the number and species of logs, the volume input into mills and processing machinery, the output of converted timber and sales of timber to domestic markets. This information is completed by the mills and submitted to respective District Forest Offices. The District Offices then check, verify and endorse the returns before they are despatched to the Federal Forest Department in shuttle returns.

Source: Malaysia country report

The network model is used in comprehensive information systems that are comparatively higher-level than the simple administrative recording systems. These models have the following features:

Substantial investment in information networking and increased willingness to share information are crucial to ensure effective vertical and horizontal flow of data. Under these circumstances network system may be developed as currently seen in countries with more advanced and comprehensive information systems.

Decreasing availability of public information

In addressing the availability of public information there are three main issues to be considered. Firstly, as resource management moves increasingly towards the private sector and local communities, collection of data by the public sector and the transfer of information to the public domain have become increasingly difficult. Secondly, existing information systems are unable to deal with the changing situation, which involves a large number of actors who, although they generate and use information, largely tend to keep it within the private domain. Thirdly, a number of constraints limit the capacity of existing organizations to access information and make it available in the public domain. For example, of total timber extraction and production of wood-based products, only 10 percent are included in national timber production statistics in Sri Lanka. The detailed situation is given in the following box.

The limitations of public sector information collection in Sri Lanka

Statistics on total production of timber, firewood and wood-based items by all producing sectors are not currently available. Official statistics on timber production and marketing refer mainly to removals and sales by the State Timber Corporation (STC), a governmental statutory body that holds a timber production monopoly. Recent studies have revealed that the STC’s share in annual timber harvests amounts to only 10 percent with the balance coming from non-forest sources such as home gardens (68 percent), rubber (11 percent) and coconut plantations (9 percent), and other perennial croplands (2 percent). Timber extraction from tea, coconut and rubber estates leased by the government to private companies are only partially recorded in annual timber production statistics due to inadequate monitoring.

Source: Sri Lanka country report

Secondly, in many countries decentralisation of forest management to provincial, and district levels has often resulted in the breakdown of linkages between central units and lower-level offices. This has undermined the traditional reporting system. In countries such as Indonesia and India, there is no effective mechanism to ensure efficient data flow from the local to the national level. In fact, in some cases staff at headquarters do not even know whether data are still collected. In consequence, the information available at the national level is incomplete and unreliable.

Thirdly, the informal sector plays a significant role in producing and processing of wood and other forest products in many countries. This is particularly the case with woodfuel collection and trade. No country is able to provide a realistic estimate of the quantity of woodfuel removed from forests, especially since a significant proportion is "illegally" collected. Woodfuel extracted from community forests and private holdings are not recorded at all. Hence what is reported accounts for only a fraction of what is actually removed and used. The situation has led to incomplete statistical coverage fuelwood and most other "minor" forest products.

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