FAO forestry newsroom
Satellite data to upscale forest monitoring in francophone countries
©FAO/Luis Tato12 June 2020, Rome – African forest experts are using satellite imagery to assess the forest resources of the continent through a virtual training held this week as part of the 2020 Remote Sensing Survey of the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA). Participants were trained on a methodology designed to derive global and regional estimates of forest area and forest area changes through visual interpretation of satellite imagery. The countries can easily adopt the methodology also for their specific needs.
Organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the virtual event saw some 50 forest experts from 15 countries participate, including Algeria, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, France, Gabon, Guinea, Lebanon, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Togo, and Tunisia.
The training was part of the FAO FRA, a country-driven process that collects and analyses official statistics on the world’s forest resources. The FRA also serves to support policy formulation and to track progress towards international commitments, including Sustainable Development Goal 15 - Life on Land. The key findings of the FRA 2020 are now available, also through an interactive report. The full report with country data is set to be published later in the year. The results of the Remote Sensing Survey will be available in 2021.
Boosting national capacities to improve data
In addition to compiling country statistics, FAO’s work on FRA helps build national capacities to monitor forests and to produce more accurate and transparent data. Since 2018, FAO has been conducting a series of workshops on using satellite-based data and products for forest monitoring. These workshops emphasise that remote sensing, when coupled with local field knowledge, can help fill gaps and ensure consistency of forest resource estimates over time and space. Workshops have had the two-fold purpose of establishing the first global network of photo interpreters as well as collecting data for the global Remote Sensing Survey of the world’s forests.
Following a learning-by-doing approach, experts have started collecting data for altogether 13,800 samples in their countries. FAO will use these data to compile independent and consistent estimates on forest area and its changes at global and regional levels in 2000-2010 and 2010-2018.
Visually interpreting data of the FRA 2020 Remote Sensing Survey entailed using FAO’s open-source Collect Earth online tool, a software developed in collaboration with NASA and Google. Physical workshops have turned into virtual webinars more recently to cope with COVID-19 restrictions and have been conducted using supporting e-learning materials.
The training workshop was conducted in synergy with other ongoing FAO initiatives. In particular, it will add to and further strengthen expertise of national personnel in countries that had already embarked in data collection training via Collect Earth in the framework of the Action Against Desertification, both for the first Global Drylands Assessments and for the biophysical information for the Great Green Wall. Some of the countries involved are also part of the FAO’s Global transformation project in West Africa, which focuses on enhancing knowledge of the state and dynamics of forest ecosystems.
Challenges to visual interpretation
Most of the countries involved in the exercise have dry vegetation and low canopy cover, which makes analysis of satellite imagery particularly challenging.
“Field knowledge in this case is, thus, very important in distinguishing forest from other vegetation types – for example, shrub – while interpreting satellite imageries,” said Anne Branthomme, FAO Forestry Officer.
While forest cover is low in many of these countries, forests play a very important role by providing notable products and services including climate change mitigation, ecosystem services, and fuel.
The virtual workshop and the FRA 2020 Remote Sensing Survey are conducted with financial support from the European Union and Norway's International Climate and Forest Initiative.
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