Traditionally, the main objective of forest management was timber production. Forestry policies and forest management objectives have however diversified and expanded over the past decades. This has been especially so since UNCED in 1992 when the multi-dimensional aspects of forestry became a central global theme. In common with the traditional aims of forest management, the main focus of forestry statistics has been on timber, timber products, the wood-processing industries and forest resource assessments. Following the structural and institutional changes in the national forestry sectors over recent years there is now increased concern and need for collection of information on forest condition, the extent of private plantations, growing stock and yields of non-wood forest products, trees outside forests, fuelwood use, biodiversity loss and climate change. The demand for information from different users and interest groups is growing rapidly. For countries committed to the implementation of the international conventions, reporting requirements have increased enormously.
Increasing reporting requirements in Malaysia
The rapid expansion and development of Malaysia’s forestry sector over the last few decades have led to a rapid increase in forestry activities and tremendous growth in data collection. For instance, in addition to existing statutory and routine requirements, forest management practices now have to be evaluated against prescribed sustainable forest management criteria. Manpower allocated to data collection is therefore increasingly overstrained in keeping up with the volume of work and this has affected the timeliness, accuracy and quality of statistics.
Source: Malaysia country report
In most countries the capacity for collecting relevant data and providing accurate information remains very limited. In fact, the capacity of many countries has been overstretched as revealed in the country reports:
There is an immense amount of duplication and fragmentation in data and information collection not only within forest department headquarters and provincial forest offices but also among other agencies.
Relevant information is often scattered in different units, departments and ministries. For example, information on forest cover and tree growth is with forest department, while information on wildlife is with wildlife departments. Forestry departments may be responsible for roundwood production from natural forests while information on wood processing can only be obtained from industry departments, and export and import figures from customs department. There is no mechanism to share information and departments often do not consider information as a public good. Furthermore, the same types of data may be generated by different systems and may be in conflict and difficult to reconcile.
In several cases, forestry departments are not aware of the routine surveys undertaken by other departments and no efforts are made to take advantage of nation-wide surveys such as population censuses, agricultural surveys or household income and expenditure surveys to obtain information relevant to forestry.
Further, information needs at different levels have frequently been addressed in a fragmented way. As new demands arise they are added to a system not designed for the purpose. A plethora of efforts, often based on short-term (and consequently unsustainable) donor support, have complicated matters. With the multitude of rapid changes, it is important that piece-meal approaches are replaced by more comprehensive efforts. Priorities need to be defined at different levels based on what can be realistically accomplished. There is a clear need to target limited resources for priority issues.
Frequently, information is not available to decision-makers while many of the data collected are irrelevant or remain unutilised. Appropriate and timely information is particularly important because of the increasing complexity in forestry and the demands for policy changes by numerous stakeholders.
Data are often collected for the sake of data collection or because of historical precedent. Little time is spent on selecting the appropriate level of precision, the data-collection method or the updating interval. Survey forms are often poorly designed and even when survey forms are returned data may not be coded for further processing, let alone subjected to secondary analysis. Efforts are generally focussed on particular sectors of forestry (usually wood production) to the detriment of others.
Furthermore, the types of statistics produced by government departments are mainly descriptive, in tabular form, graphics or pictures. Essentially, data remain data and are not translated into information. There is a substantial disregard for the needs of decision-makers, planners and the general public, and as long as the translation of data into more useful information is neglected, decisions will remain poor and people will continue to be misinformed.