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Forest surveys provide baseline data for participation in REDD+

Since 1990, Zambia has lost over 13% of its forest cover, among the highest deforestation rates in the world.

Key facts

Prior to 2006, Zambia had few reliable national estimates of its forests. But an integrated land-use assessment (ILUA I) from 2005-2008 provided the country with a valuable and reliable snapshot of the size, species, health, value and carbon content of its forests. Now Zambia is initiating a second survey (ILUA II). This time the results will offer more than a snapshot – they will provide proof of progress. Zambia is using the ILUA I data as a baseline against which it can show how various aspects of its forests have changed. ILUA II incorporates measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) requirements for greenhouse gas emissions from forests. MRV is required for countries to participate in REDD+, a climate change initiative that provides financial incentives to developing countries to protect forests, thereby maintaining their capacity to store and sequester carbon. Having MRV as part of ILUA II, therefore, will facilitate Zambia’s participation in REDD+.

Forests have the capacity to sequester and store enormous amounts of carbon – in trees, ground litter and the soil. When forests are destroyed or degraded, or converted for another use, they emit sequestered carbon into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas, contributing to climate change. Ensuring the sustainable management of forests is critical to global climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Since 1990, Zambia has lost over 13 percent of its forest cover, sometimes as much as 300 000 hectares a year – among the highest deforestation rates in the world. One of the main causes of this is poverty. Poor people are often forced to cut forests in order to have space to plant crops for food, or they use trees to make timber or charcoal that they need for household use or to sell for income. In 2010, Zambia, supported by FAO, took a preliminary step towards becoming a partner in the UN Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD). The Programme is now supporting countries preparing national REDD+ strategies – the “+” being conservation and enhancement of carbon stocks, and sustainable management of forests. REDD+ strategies aim at creating an incentive for developing countries to protect, better manage and wisely use their forest resources, contributing to the global fight against climate change. REDD+ builds monitoring systems, engages stakeholders and assesses multiple benefits of forests. By creating a financial value for the carbon stored in trees, REDD+ aims to tip the balance in favour of sustainable management of forests so that their environmental and social goods and services benefit countries, communities, biodiversity and forest users while also contributing to important reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Surveys set baseline, measure progress in Zambia
Starting in 2005, FAO worked with the Zambian Government in conducting its first national forest survey since the 1960s. That survey, an integrated land-use assessment (ILUA I), had a broad scope, enabling it to set up a baseline for long-term land use and forest monitoring at the national level. Nine teams assessed 250 permanent sample plots across the country, with the government providing staff and vehicles, and FAO providing technical expertise.

The stakes are higher for Zambia’s second land-use assessment survey, ILUA II. With ILUA I as the baseline, the follow-up will show changes in land use and cover over time, and prove the viability of Zambia’s MRV system in computing forest-based greenhouse gas emissions – two critical requirements of REDD+. Again, FAO has provided the technical support in the design of ILUA II, with the intention of assessing approximately 4 000 sampling sites across Zambia with trained teams in order to meet REDD+ requirements.

With ILUA I, Zambia has been able to strengthen its structure for long-term monitoring, and synchronized it with other activities related to REDD+. With ILUA II, Zambia will be able to show how much carbon it has truly sequestered, allowing it to take part in whatever REDD+ scheme will be decided in the future.

ILUA II includes socio-economic and household data
ILUA II goes beyond REDD+ MRV requirements. It incorporates a cross-sectoral element that includes gathering socio-economic data from forest communities. In addition to measuring tree diameters and heights, and identifying pests and other forest threats, the ILUA II survey teams also will gather data from households and forest-user groups in communities.

Having baseline data on communities’ quality-of-life provides a more complete understanding of the benefits that forests bring – such as medicine and fuel, and supporting cultural traditions – which often do not show up in GDP. ILUA II also includes issues of tenure and user-rights, which need to be monitored over time to ensure they are protected.

This type of information will be used to inform potential safeguard measures and information systems that could, in return, help ensure that the rights of communities are respected in any performance-based payments for reducing deforestation. For Zambia, the socio-economic data increases understanding of where degradation is occurring and why, and of how women and men are affected differently by local natural resource management policies. This will give policy-makers the kind of information they can use to develop specific and adequate policies that improve the management of Zambia’s forests, while also ensuring that local livelihoods are strengthened.