2. Why still poor knowledge about the forest resources?

Shortcomings in forestry-related statistics seem to have a range of explanations. Let us first say that they are seldom due to lack of techniques. Rather the interest in using the newly developed techniques does carry the risk that forest inventories may become technique-driven instead of demand-driven and focus on using the latest technique instead of answering the most important questions.

We believe that most of the shortcomings are related to poor links between supply and demand of information. Thus the situation cannot be remedied e.g. by just introducing or improving national forest inventories and related data gathering. The following are some common problems with supply and demand of information and the connection between them:
  • The mechanisms that formulate policy-relevant questions are lacking.
  • The information presented is supply-driven. Inventories are undertaken in a routine way without proper analysis of the questions that need to be answered. As a result they tend to provide answers to irrelevant questions. Failure to analyse the real needs is one of the reasons why information obtained is not fully used.
  • Inventories are carried out under pressure from donors. In such cases they tend to be one-time undertakings, not providing the often-needed change information, and few attempts are made to keep the results updated.
  • Inventories are also sometimes undertaken on the basis of spurious or exaggerated claims that they are a necessary preliminary step, in order to put off taking the action that is needed to bring forests under management.
  • Existing information may be kept secret or in closed Government files.
Another category of problems is related to poor appreciation of the importance of information and inadequate allocation of resources for this purpose:
  • Inventories are one-time undertakings that soon become outdated
  • There is a shortage of qualified personnel (lack of ¿capacity¿)
  • Available qualified personnel is not given appropriate position
  • It is very difficult to collect information about e.g. forest use
Finally we can identify problems related to lacking commitment. National commitment is often lacking. The degree of commitment is influenced by many factors (Archer 1993). One important consideration in this context is that knowledge is power. The authorities in many countries may not want the truth to be known. They may have vested interests or things to hide or they may want to make claims that are not supported by the statistics. For example:
  • Some countries with high deforestation rates may not want to publish the real figures, in order to avoid criticism.
  • Conversely, other countries may want to show as high a deforestation rate as possible, in order to obtain increased support for forestry.
  • Countries may not always want to bring results of plantations in the open, because there are many failures, which some officials want to hide.
  • There may be much illegal felling, often with the connivance of the forest authorities and therefore with only limited interest in finding out the true actual rate of use of the forests.
The main reason for bad statistics may simply be that there are powerful people who do not want better information. In most countries there is therefore a need for an analysis of different groups¿ interests in improving or suppressing statistics. Sometimes the forces working against improvement may be so strong that any attempt to upgrade the statistical base will be certain to fail.

Alternatively, many forests have not been surveyed because they have limited commercial production potential or the cost of extensive assessment is not justified by the extent of commercial resources. However, these forests are often important for a range of values that society has placed on them as described above. The declining contribution of native forests to timber production is also causing less resources to be allocated to surveys of the extent and condition of these forests, despite their importance for other values. Placing sufficient economic value on forest products such as water, biodiversity or carbon sequestration to justify investment in inventory, assessment and monitoring is a challenge for some forest managers.

last updated:  Thursday, August 26, 2004