Decentralisation and privatisation in forest management in the region have important implications for the production of forestry statistics. The role of the government agencies in data collection and reporting has been diminishing while their information systems are becoming less effective and the data they contain less accurate and more outdated. Forestry information is moving from "public domain" to the "private domain". Existing information systems are unable to deal with the changing situation. Furthermore, a number of constraints are limiting the capacity of existing systems especially at the local level. The complexity of agencies involved in collecting and analysing data causes difficulties in producing information necessary to achieve sustainable forest management while some information lacks relevance and other information remains under-utilized. Finally there is the difficulty of "documenting the undocumented" such as activities in the informal sector and illegal logging and illegal timber trade.
On the other hand, information needs will increase as stakeholders involved in forestry and objectives of forest management diversify. Globalisation places demands on policy makers and planners at all levels to assess and understand developments beyond their own narrow fields. Furthermore, sustainable forest management that emphasises the social and environmental dimensions of forestry requires generation of information often beyond the capacity of countries and actors concerned. Past efforts have either addressed issues in isolation or provided a technological fix, which frequently did not bring about improvements in information systems and did not lead to necessary institutional changes.
Traditionally, forestry statistics covered a limited area of what is today considered sustainable forest management. The aim of information generation was, and in many countries still is, to provide public sector decision-makers with insight mainly into production related issues. However, forestry stakeholders have diversified and new stakeholders with very different information needs have appeared. That the nature of information requirements has changed has gone largely unnoticed to forestry statistics.
In developing comprehensive information, the most critical questions are:
As a result of budgetary constraints there is frequently less rather than more information produced. In addition, there is a tendency to focus on data that can be easily collected and issues for which there are tangible short-term benefits. In giving priority to such "useful" information, less "useful" aspects are neglected. However, it is impossible to collect all the data that stakeholder’s request and therefore forestry statistics should be guided by decision-making requirements for sustainable forest management.
Co-ordination and collaboration in the public and private sectors are essential for streamlining information systems and for providing comprehensive information at the local and national levels.
To increase and enhance co-ordination and collaboration to ensure provision of comprehensive public goods information, it is recommended to:
In most countries the capacity for collecting relevant data and providing accurate information remains very limited, especially in field offices. In the absence of local-level information, it is almost impossible to provide national assessments, let alone to make informed decisions. It is crucial to enhance capacity to collect, compile and analyse data at the local level. The following aspects should be addressed:
Perhaps the first step in the right direction would be to accept that many of today’s decision makers require more than annual reports filled with descriptive statistics that many stakeholders do not trust or rely on. While it is recognized that improvements have been made in several countries, the suspicion remains that far more could have been achieved, if the underlying causes for poor information on Asian forestry and forests had been more thoroughly examined. Too often policy makers, planners and donors assume that the lack of funds, infrastructure and skills are the main barriers to improving forestry information. While a scarcity of funds and weak capacities are obstacles, other important barriers to improving forestry statistics exist. They include vested interest in obscuring the true, sometimes embarrassing situation, resistance to change and inappropriate performance rating and reward systems. Without tackling the underlying causes little will be achieved and forestry statistics will at best remain muddled and at worst will become redundant.