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Lessons of computerization in Andhra Pradesh Forest Department, India

The FAO Country Capacity Building in Forest Resources Assessment Project(GCP/INT/621/SWE), funded by Sweden, is providing technical assistance to India's Andhra Pradesh Forest Department in the introduction of computers and, in particular; of a geographic information system (GIS) to replace the current traditional method of storage, retrieval and processing of forestry information. This article briefly considers and draws lessons from the effort.

K. D. Singh

K. D. Singh is Chief Technical Advisor, Country Capacity Building in Forest Resources Assessment Project, FAO.

The State of Andhra Pradesh has a forest area of 6.3 million ha, managed by about 300 professional and 3000 technical staff. The Forest Department has more than 100 years of forest management tradition. However, recently it was realized that the department needed to increase its capacity for planning, implementing and monitoring large-scale forestry investment programmes. The baseline information about the state's forest resources was considered weak; information on the quantity and quality of forest resources as well as on supply of forest produce and on commercial and noncommercial demand for timber and non-timber forest products was lacking. Existing work plans were not realistic and often not implemented in their entirety.

A GIS workshop for staff of the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department

In 1994, with financial assistance from a World Bank project, the state's Forest Department initiated a major effort to improve its forestry programme. The project includes components focusing on forest management; plant propagation; research and training; joint forest management; biological diversity conservation; fodder development, and tribal development. The project is providing incremental inputs in equipment and materials, physical facilities, staff training, technical services and technical expertise to carry out basic surveys, formulate strategic investment plans, develop timely and adequate working plans and monitor their implementation. It is supporting the development within the forest administration of a broad base of basic skills in computer data processing and in the use of satellite and other imagery for survey and mapping needed for the formulation of strategic plans and local operational plans. It provides financial assistance for improving the facilities for data collection, management and analysis and is also funding special surveys related to high-priority production and conservation areas within Andhra Pradesh's forest estate as well as to forest production on non-forest areas. All of these activities are being developed within the framework of an integrated management information system.

In October 1994, within the context of the larger effort, the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department signed a special agreement with FAO to provide the following services through the capacity-building project:

· conduct a relatively small-scale and low-cost, statewide forest survey based on remote sensing and limited field data;

· establish a GIS with the specific capacity to guide activities in joint forest management;

· improve planning capacity and computer infrastructure in order to permit the implementation of a new forest management system.

The scope of computerization

The main areas of computerization being undertaken through the project are listed in Table 1 together with the name of the agency responsible for implementation.

TABLE 1. Computerization modules and responsibility for their implementation


Implementing agency

Office automation/local area network

A local company

Management information system (MIS)

A local company

Forest inventory system


Monitoring based on remote sensing and forest cover mapping at 1:50000

FAO in cooperation with forest survey of India

Geographic information system (GIS)

FAO with a local contract for digitization of input maps

Use of computers in planning and decision- making

FAO with full involvement of Andhra Pradesh Forest Department staff

Progress to date

Statewide forest inventory

A statistically sound procedure has been developed for collection and analysis of the forest inventory data. The forest inventory data processing system (FIDAPS), an FAO software package for processing inventory data, was adapted to fit the needs of the state and data from two districts has been processed. This user-friendly software runs on a PC under Windows 3.1 and has now been installed in Hyderabad where it is being used by local staff.

Joint forest management participants In Andhra Pradesh

GIS planning and implementation

An information needs analysis has been conducted to find out what kind of spatial information is used and by whom, the scales used, what base data are available and so on. As a part of the development study, the forest inventory data were combined with the georeferenced databases derived from remote sensing. With the combination of the two more precise estimates of forest cover, biomass and other characteristics were obtained.

In cooperation with FAO, the Forest Department organized a workshop with the participation of all levels of its staff to make the staff aware of problems and potentialities associated with GIS.

A methodology for the priority zoning of silvicultural treatment using GIS data has also been implemented and this identifies joint forest management areas by treatment type.

Office automation and networking

In the first instance, computers are being provided only at the head offices and circle and divisional offices, which are located in cities and big towns. The range offices, generally located in small towns, will not be provided with computers owing to uncertainties of power supply but also because of a lack of proper maintenance support. The range officers will use computer-coded forms and periodically enter the data at the divisional offices. Although not an ideal solution, it is the only one considered feasible today.

For the time being, only the Forest Department's head offices will be connected through a local area network.

The task ahead

The new planning system

Work on the planning system is currently in progress. As indicated in Table 2, two types of planning situation are being distinguished development planning and forest management planning. Development planning will be carried out at the district and state level with the objective of defining broad goals and identifying required means without going into prescriptions or other specific details. The planning horizon will be five years for the medium term and 15 years for the long term.

Forest management planning will be carried out at the divisional level. The divisional forest officer will prepare a five-year and an annual management plan of the division consistent with the larger development plans.

A statewide continuous forest inventory and mapping exercise is proposed so that all districts and, therefore, the whole state will be covered by specialized inventory teams using a systematic sampling design. In the fifth year, the idea is to revisit the plots inventoried in the first year to monitor changes in the stand and site. The remote sensing and mapping is proposed to be done using data from the Indian remote sensing satellite LISS-III (23 m resolution) for the whole state in a uniform manner and establishing a division-, district- and state-level GIS database. At the village level, PAN data with a resolution of 5.8 m will be utilized.

TABLE 2. Framework of forestry planning in Andhra Pradesh

Planning situation

Information needs

Technology and tools

Institutions (responsible persons)

Forestry development planning (district and state level)

· Time series of production and consumption data, policy data

· Sample survey and remote sensing data

· State and district forestry offices and planning offices

Forest management planning (division and range level)

· Forest inventory and maps, market and price data, funds available

· GIS and MIS; area production model (APM)
· MIS and GIS

· Divisional and range forest officers assisted by district and state planning offices

Silviculturists, using the comprehensive georeferenced data and their specialized knowledge, will classify state-owned forests into working circles (treatment types) on a uniform basis and provide prescriptions for their optimum handling. The prescriptions by working circles will be revised as and when new silvicultural knowledge on treatment of various types of forests and their natural and artificial regeneration becomes available. Silvicultural prescriptions will be written in local languages so that local foresters (section officers) can understand and implement them.

Lessons in computerization learned to date

Human resources development, not only to run the computers but also to make productive use of them, is a critical factor. Computerization should not be seen as the introduction of a new tool into the old system, but rather as the opportunity to make a quantum jump in management efficiency. The old system must change to cater for new needs.

Selection of hardware and software and the customization of MIS and GIS are already demanding tasks in view of fast-changing technology, but they do not present an unsurmountable problem. There is enough expertise and knowledge available in the department or commercially in Hyderabad, if needed. The real problem lies in operationalization or institutionalization of the technology.

Information-based planning is not an extension of the traditional system. It requires a review of the entire decision-making and control process and the establishment of a new system based on the enhanced use of information and knowledge. To receive the full benefit of computer technology, the system change must affect all levels of an institution and its functions. Jobs need to be redefined and responsibilities placed in a new context. A reorganization of the institutional structure must involve a reallocation of posts.

In Andhra Pradesh, the computerization process has now reached precisely this level: progress is: slow and there is not only resistance but active opposition to change. However, there are signs of hope. Hard decisions are called for and being made to get the full benefits of a new technology requiring a new way of thinking and decision-making. With wise computerization will come a new planning system and way of working which wilt not only enhance the state's forestry sector but, more important, make a lasting impact on the life of the people, including the least privileged of the poor who live in and around the forest of Andhra Pradesh.

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