Comments on the Draft on NFSMs
I shall begin with the obvious, viz., why do we need a forest monitoring system, which obviously requires a considerable amount of human and other resources to establish and maintain?
It would be reasonable to suggest that such a system is essential to nurture and sustain our forest resources, because it would enable us to ascertain to what extent we may utilise them without impairing their sustainability and to undertake appropriate actions whenever their sustainability is under threat.
Indeed, this is the sole context within which NFSM acquires its justification. Forest monitoring then, ought to be embeded not only in the institutional bundle the current draft outlines, but in a more holistic one that includes all institutions involved in national life.
This may seem a trivial point, but I think, unless we have an uncontroversial reason to ensure the continued existence of forests, and their monitoring as a necessary condition for it, one might easily loose one’s sense of proportion among technical details.
Nobody will dispute that we all are beneficiaries of forests in that they are vital components of Oxygen and Carbon dioxide cycles, enhance the water table, absorb excess of solar heat and improve the local climate, etc.
Now, the ability of the forest to give us those benefits, depends on the equilibrium between the living things in it and its mineral resources required for their continued existence. The latter includes soil nutrients and water.
The quantity of utilisable soil nutrients and water in a given forest area is finite. So, the sustainability of a forest depends on a continued cycle of death and biological degradation of its inhabitants, which would replenish its pool of soil nutrients. Here, death may be due to age, disease or predation.
This process of replenishment, depends on the equilibrium among the species living in a forest. This biological equilibrium has a qualitative and a quantatative component. Biodiversity represents this qualitative component, while population of the individual species reflects its quantitative aspect.
Thus, the sustainability of a forest depends on the adequacy of its soil nutrients and water supply for the living there. The adequacy of the former, depends on the equilibrium among them, i. E. Natural biodiversity, which is instrumental in dynamically keeping the populations of individual species at sustainable levels.
If the foregoing is reasonable, then forest monitoring as an adjunct to its sustainability, ought to extend its range and scope to include rivers, streams, lakes, etc., in a forest as well as its smaller plants, and at least some of its fauna. I know this is a tall order, but it can be very significant under some circumstances.
For instance, during drought in some parts of Africa, elephants resort to barking trees as their access to grass becomes limited. This leads to the destruction of many trees. Likewise, unlimited hunting of the carnivores in savanas results in over grazing by the buffalos, which has serious land and climatic implications. Perhaps, some mechanism may be developed so that forest monitoring could cooperate with Wild Life Services of a country to render its data as complete as possible.
After this somewhat critical start, I am delighted to see the two key aspects of an NFSM, foundation elements and their institutionalisation are very well put indeed. As for the exchange of students, researchers, etc., is an excellent idea in principle, but it would be useful only if areas of their work and the systems they represent are more or less commensurable.
Even within a given region, this commensurability may not always obtain. As it has been pointed out in the current draft, it is important to begin the work and continue to improve it as one goes along. But, such improvements have to be made gradually owing to the uneven distribution of human and other resources required for the purpose. So, exchanges between the most advanced countries in forest monitoring and new comers to the field could only lead to unrealistic expectations and abandoned projects.
The draft suggests, “linkages with other national, regional and global institutes partner…””, and there again, their relevance to the overall purpose of an NFSM is paramount to avoid inappropriate practices. I have already mentioned national wild life service as an important contributor to this endeavour.
The current draft states, ”here are other “sectors” like agriculture, environmental protection, biodiversity conservation, ecotourism development or other forest-related fields that are
interested in the results from national forest monitoring.” Unfortunately, this approach represents a case of putting the cart before the horse in a reductive fashion.
Taken individually, those secotors can hardly undertake steps to ensure the sustainability of forests using NFSM data, and if no forests exist, all of them would be adversely affected. So, it is important to incorporate an NFSM into a national conservation agency with linkages to social practices with environmental implications.
Finally, I think it would be prudent to give permanant employment to trainees in forest monitoring as a means of ensuring a continued supply of competent, and one hopes, dedicated people. In my view, it would be very useful if international resources can be made available to pay them if a country finds it difficult to do so owing to valid pragmatic reasons.