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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum


Towards improved reporting on primary forests

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations' (FAO) Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) provides essential information for understanding the extent of the world’s forest resources, their condition, management and uses.  Data collected through the FRA reporting process are used to report on progress towards globally agreed targets and inform policy and decisions by governments, civil society and the private sector. Therefore, concepts, definitions and methods developed for the FRA have broad influence beyond the process itself and must therefore be carefully developed to ensure they can be implemented consistently by as many actors as possible. This on-line consultation contributes to improvements of guidance and methods for reporting comparable global information for primary forest area and its changes. 

The FRA requests countries to report on the extent of their forests for several different types of forests. One of these types is “Primary forest” which is defined by FAO as “Naturally regenerated forest of native tree species, where there are no clearly visible indications of human activities and the ecological processes are not significantly disturbed” (Terms and Definitions, FRA 2020). 

While the definition of primary forest may be broadly accepted, consistently measuring the actual area of primary forest among countries has proven to be challenging.  Studies have shown considerable variation in how countries apply the definition in their own circumstances, which raises questions about the comparability of the data among countries and its applicability for informing policy and decisions.  In addition, other recent studies have suggested new methods to assess the area of primary forest that might be broadly applicable among many countries. Fostering discussion and debate around definition and operational methodology for the assessment of primary forest are key to promoting accurate and consistent global reporting to assess progress toward global objectives such as Aichi Biodiversity Target 5 forest-related goals and targets under the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, Sustainable Development Goal 15 and the goals of the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030.

Therefore, the FAO has undertaken to bring together FRA National Correspondents and other experts through a series of workshops to improve the operational methods for data collection and reporting on the extent of primary forests. The goal of these workshops is to increase the consistency of data collection methods and enhance the comparability among countries of estimates of the extent of primary forests. The workshops will be conducted in the course of 2020-2021 in different regions based on ecological, geographical, language and forest management differences in primary forests. The first workshop, for the boreal biome, is scheduled for March 17-19, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada. 

In order to facilitate discussion at these workshops, a background paper is being prepared, summarizing how the extent of primary forest has been assessed to date, identifying emerging methods that might provide useful alternatives to existing methods, and providing options for workshop participants to discuss.

The paper presents:

  1. A review and assessment of definitions relating to primary forests;
  2. A review of how primary forest has been reported in FRAs to date;
  3. An evaluation of datasets and methods currently available for mapping primary forests and estimating their condition, area and trends; and
  4. Options for future defining, assessing and reporting on primary forests.

Through this e-consultation, FRA National Correspondents, Secretariats of the Rio Conventions, Civil Society and other stakeholders are kindly invited to comment the background paper draft. The received feedback will contribute to the preparation of the final version of the background paper, which will be presented during the regional primary forest workshops.

When providing your feedback, kindly reply to the following guiding questions:

  1. Is the FAO definition on primary forest (FAO, 2018) adequate to your national/regional/global assessment and reporting purposes? If not, what criteria would you like to add/remove from the FAO definition?
  2. Is the background paper missing any major issues? If yes, please specify.
  3. Which methodology and data, if any, do you use to assess primary forest area and its changes?
  4. Which methodological changes would be needed to improve reporting on primary forest area and its changes at national, regional and global levels, with particular emphasis on improving consistency among countries?
  5. How can FAO help countries improve their reporting on primary forest?
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