4. What information is needed?

4.1 General

As a matter of principle data collection should be demand driven. The set of information that is to be gathered and analysed should be defined by need, rather than by what is easy to measure with available techniques or by what donors are ready to fund, or by what other countries do. In real life good practice will be that the development of NFAs and collection of statistics be iterative processes. Sometimes the NFA will respond to a known demand, sometimes it will anticipate demand.

A practical way to approach the question of what information should be collected is to ask what is needed for an analysis of the consequences of political action (see below). This kind of analysis is very demanding in terms of information, and whatever satisfies its needs will satisfy many or most other needs.

One ¿difficult-to-assess¿ type of information in this context is change information. It is crucial for monitoring of both the result of new policies and strategies and the implementation of programmes.

It will also become apparent that some of the relevant questions cut across sectors, and are not always considered to be part of the subject of forest administrations. Information gathering for forestry planning certainly involves far more than forest inventory. Examples are:
  • Information on the use of forest derived goods and services,
  • Trade with such goods and services,
  • Contribution of such goods and services to the economy of rural households,
  • Employment statistics,
  • Importance of forest in general and specific forest areas in particular for biological diversity,
  • Stakeholders¿ behaviours and expected reactions to policy instruments
Obviously much information needed in the policy-making context is difficult to assess. In view of this we must accept that not all information needs can be met immediately. It is more realistic to assume a step-by-step improvement process. To begin with it may be more important to formulate questions than to answer them. The needs for information vary also from country to country and from case to case and should be thoroughly thought over.

It must finally be mentioned here that a number of international processes have developed criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management for different forest types. In some cases, like the Montreal and Helsinki Processes, these have settled on a relatively detailed set of indicators. Countries involved can choose those relevant to their circumstances and report them at a national level and in some cases at sub-national levels. In the process developed for tropical forest countries by the ITTO the approach has been to develop a methodology so that interest groups nationally or in a local area can determine those indicators of forest management that are most important to them.

4.2 Analyses of consequences

Analyses of consequences are a key part of the political process. They consider action programmes that have been designed as different options, and simulate or predict what will happen if a given programme is implemented. The analysis of consequences as outlined here is complex, and very demanding in terms of basic data and techniques.

In the political process a problem is identified. This may be deforestation, the poor condition of young forests, conflicting claims on land in certain landscape types, or the loss of sources of non-timber forest products. To deal with the problem, options for solutions are designed, such as different programmes to promote the establishment of better young forests. The programmes may include legislation, research, special monitoring inventories, information campaigns, and financial incentives. There is then a need to estimate the consequences of each option, one of which may be to do nothing.

At this point the concept of production- and consumption studies must be mentioned. It has been developed by Nilsson (1978) and has provided important conceptual input to what is here presented as ¿analysis of consequences¿. Some of the particular aspects stressed are:
  • Studies in connection with forest policy development have often focussed on potential cut, allowable cut or similar quantifications of the supply side. In the policy context such studies become meaningful only if related (in comparable terms!) to the demand side, thus fellings, removals or consumption. Corresponding applies to non-wood goods and services.
  • We can only make realistic scenarios of future developments if today¿s land use is known and well quantified. Another aspect of the same is that readers can understand the forecast changes only in relation to a known starting situation.
  • ¿Today¿s land use¿ here includes knowledge of competing claims on land. In relation to forests it includes wood as well as non-wood goods and services.

4.3 Types of information normally needed

This section contains a list of and comments on information components needed in many circumstances of planning and policymaking.

Forest use
Most forestry aims at producing goods and services that people need. It is important to have information on quantities, patterns and trends in the production and consumption of forest products and the trade with them. At present the figures about e.g. exploitation may be just guesstimates, sometimes reflecting the formal level of allowable cut, but with little relation to reality. It is also important to have information about non-wood commodities and services derived from the forests.

The present state of the forests
This is basic information collected in most traditional inventories. A characteristic of key importance is the capacity of the forests to fulfil their functions. Information needs exist normally concerning areas, topography, ownership, accessibility, volumes and growth. More recently, information has been collected on forest types and ecosystem descriptions for conservation planning, including age information, particularly for ¿old growth¿ or primary forests.

Policy-making usually requires information on changes over time, rather than mere status information. Only repeated or ¿continuous¿ inventories can provide such information. Comparability and accuracy are of critical importance in such inventories. It must be understood that continuous inventories imply secured long-term funding and a stable organisation. In countries that have continuous inventories it has taken decades to build up the organisation in charge.

In many countries ¿ especially in tropical/sub-tropical regions - plantations are established for specific purposes and are often intensively managed for fast growth and high yield (often exotics). The plans are often that in the future most wood will come from plantations. In spite of this information about plantations is frequently most inadequate. The information needs for plantations are typically concerned with purpose, planted area by year, whether on previous forest or non-forest land, site class, species, survival, age, density, health, and felling records.

Trees outside of forests
Trees outside of forests are an important forest resource. In a number of countries and regions (e.g. Bangladesh, Java, Pakistan, India) studies have shown that the majority of ¿forest products¿ originates from this resource (FAO/RWEDP 2000). In spite of this, failure to collect information about trees outside of forests is a major flaw in many inventories.

The role of forests for local communities
In most developing countries rural people have had a traditional dependence on forests. ¿Industrial forestry¿ has sometimes developed more recently, but there is a growing policy desire to let rural people benefit more from nearby forest and tree resources (e.g. by community forestry). This development brings a wide array of new information needs. In most countries little is known or understood about these matters by governments or forest management authorities. Therefore it is difficult to develop policies that will strengthen the beneficial role of forests for rural communities and that will enable these communities to participate in sustainable forest management.

Other issues
Above have been mentioned primarily traditional types of forest information. There is an increasing need for new types of information. Examples are biological diversity, availability, ¿ownership¿, naturalness, protection status, ¿quality¿ of forests, forest fires, NWFP, environmental benefits (e.g. hydrological effects), criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. For some of these new types of information good inventory methods are not in place.

4.4 Considerations before data collection

Given that we know our information needs a first consideration will be what information is already available. Organisation of existing information is a task that may be tedious, but it can often save much money and time. As a minimum it requires good archiving and retrieval systems.

A second consideration is the degree of accuracy that is needed for the intended purpose. What will be the consequence of an error of a certain size?

A third consideration is how much can be done with available resources1. If a new national or province level inventory is deemed necessary, then we can consider the relevance to our policy issues of the following inventory characteristics:
  • one-time versus continuous inventories;
  • local inventories versus large-scale, sampling-based inventories;
  • field observations versus remote sensing;
  • inventories of forest resources versus information gathering on economic, social and administrative topics.

    1NFAs can be seen as an investment that must pay off

last updated:  Thursday, August 26, 2004