Concept Note

Expert consultation: National Forest Monitoring and Assessment (NFMA): Meeting Evolving Needs

Reviewing FAO’s support to NFMA in light of new demands on countries to assess forest carbon, land use changes and other reporting requirements


Background information and justifications

The need for improving national forest monitoring systems is imperative as the demand for information has never been greater. National forest programmes, polices and strategy processes strive to address cross-cutting issues such as poverty and food security related to the multiple functions of forests in social, economic and environmental contexts. Additionally, international fora request countries to report regularly on a variety of forest and environmental issues and civil society is increasingly concerned.

Recently, UNFCCC COP-13 in Bali adopted a decision on reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries involving approaches to stimulate action. Further decisions concerned enhancing the development of methodological approaches to consistently monitor and verify estimated national reductions of carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation over time in developing countries through transparent and verifiable means.

Yet in many countries, forest and land use information is outdated, partial or subjective, and in most cases the precision is not sufficient to draw reliable conclusions in order to develop or adapt relevant policies. As a result of such insufficient information and poor data quality, including differences in concepts and definitions, scenario development and planning regarding sustainable forest management may not be realistic. Consequently, land use policies are not in tune with real conditions and user needs, in particular those of rural populations.

Information improvement about all forest types and trees outside forests was also targeted by United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) and by member countries at the Committee on Forestry (COFO) as an area of significant importance towards better forest policy formulation and national forest programme development. Both processes have emphasized the need for policy frameworks and institutional arrangements that foster the participation of civil society in forest decision-making and improved cooperation across sectors based on enhanced data collection, monitoring, assessment, analysis and reporting on forests.  

The UNFF proposals for action underscore the need for improved data collection on a full range of goods and services of all types of forests and trees outside forest boundaries, based on rapid, cost effective and policy-oriented methods. Emphasis was placed on integrated and holistic multidisciplinary approaches incorporating cross-cutting issues, technology transfer and country capacity building.

Upon request, FAO assists countries in their efforts to close the knowledge gap by providing technical support for: implementing systematic field inventories, conducting remote sensing studies and establishing information systems. The National Forest Monitoring and Assessment (NFMA) programme of FAO has been active since 2000 in a growing number of countries.  The NFMA programme has designed an approach based on data collection from nation-wide systematic sampling and remote sensing. While fieldwork is the backbone of the inventory process, remote sensing is used as a complementary tool to map land cover/uses and land cover changes on a full wall-to-wall or sample plot basis.

The assessments place local uses of forests and trees in the center, thus focusing on information related to real-world management decisions and factors influencing those decisions. Statistical rigour allows for aggregation of findings at the national level. The approach creates new knowledge not only about overall national estimates of important parameters, but also how these vary throughout the country. In conclusion, the NFMA approach has the potential to aid in the analysis of the national forest and related land use sectors and to provide a sound basis for policy development and evaluation. It also guides specific and detailed inventories of rare events.



Objectives of the expert consultation

Increasingly detailed and diverse forest information requirements necessitate continued flexibility from NFMA systems in order to optimally serve all stakeholders.  With this in mind, the main objective of the expert consultation is to explore ways to enhance the NFMA programme to meet increasing country needs in monitoring forest cover and land use change and in generating the required information for national planning purposes and international negotiations. Moreover, enhancement of information systems to improve data accessibility and utilisation will be examined. .

Specifically, the Expert Consultation will focus on the following objectives:

  • NFMA TOOL FOR REDD MONITORING: Identify strengths and weaknesses of the FAO approach to NFMA in relation to monitoring REDD and provide guidance for improvements taking into account methods and technologies developed for forest carbon monitoring.
  • NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL PROCESSES AND THEIR REQUIREMENTS: Identify requirements of national and international policy, planning and reporting needs and assess NFMA programme capacity to meet these requirements and recommend further evolvement and adaptation.
  • INFORMATION SYSTEMS: Provide guidance on how to present and disseminate information and results of the NFMAs effectively to make them accessible to policy and decision makers in countries for domestic use and reporting to international processes. 

Expected outputs

  1. Improved understanding of reporting and information requirements of national and international processes and conventions and recommendations for improvements to the NFMA methodology to meet requirements including monitoring REDD and establishing linkages of national forest programmes with international initiatives e.g. UN Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD), WB Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), Global Environment Facility (GEF), and other international initiatives for REDD.
  2. Identification of strengths and weaknesses of the NFMA approach in relation to monitoring REDD and provision of recommendations for improvement to meet UNFCCC requirements and establishment of linkages with other initiatives for methodological developments on REDD
  3. Recommendations on how to improve NFMA and remote sensing methods to better meet national planning needs.
  4. Assessment of how NFMA is addressing information requirements for national land use planning and advice on how best to adapt to meet country-specific needs.
  5. Recommendations on how to develop the NFMA tools to be more user-friendly and applicable for various users from data collection to analysis and utilisation.
  6. Advice on how to communicate and disseminate NFMA data according to different audiences




last updated:  Saturday, November 22, 2008