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Tanzania’s forest inventory provides critical baseline data

Tanzania now has a depth of baseline information it can use to improve forest management thanks to a new forest survey.

Key facts

For two years, 16 multidisciplinary teams criss-crossed the United Republic of Tanzania’s forests, stopping at 3 400 sampling sites, measuring and mapping the forest and speaking with local people. These teams were involved in one of the largest efforts ever undertaken by a developing country to chart its forest lands, even estimating the amount of carbon stock. Today, the results of that survey, designed and implemented by FAO and the government, are helping scientists and policy-makers develop a national forest plan. This will be based on statistically sound biophysical data, but also will have the advantage of a deeper socio-economic understanding of how local communities use their forests.The information will enable the government to devise more consistent land-use and livelihood policies that call for the development of more participatory management plans, giving local people a voice in the care and protection of the forest resource on which they depend.

From simple tape measures used to check a tree’s diameter to intricate satellite imagery that gives an overview image of forest cover – FAO’s National Forest Resources Monitoring and Assessment project (NAFORMA) fused traditional inventory methods with new tools and methodologies to generate the most comprehensive information ever compiled on the United Republic of Tanzania’s forests. This includes biophysical data about trees and landscape that can be used by land-use planners and environment and climate change experts, plus socioeconomic information from the people themselves, which policymakers can use to help involve local people in the management and care of their forests. 

FAO worked with the country’s forestry decision-makers and inventory and remote-sensing experts to design the survey, setting up statistically sound methodology and tools for assessing the results, and implementing computer models that will allow the United Republic of Tanzania to monitor changes in carbon stocks over time. Thanks to this survey, the country now has a depth of baseline information it can use for moving forward. One-third of the United Republic of Tanzania is forest. Yet each year, part of that resource is lost to deforestation. This not only reduces the possibility for local people to benefit from the forest, it also increases carbon emissions, which contributes to climate change. The United Republic of Tanzania is the first of five pilot countries to undertake these in-depth surveys, which also calculate the impact of deforestation on carbon stored in forest soils. Future surveys will be done in Ecuador, Peru, Viet Nam and Zambia.

Multidisciplinary teams gather broad data
The 16 teams carrying out the survey data spent two years travelling the length and breadth of the country, gathering information and taking soil and tree samples from 3 400 sites that had been plotted using satellite imagery. The multidisciplinary teams included specialists on tree species, soil, climate change, livelihoods and gender. For example, the team learned that men and women perceive issues differently, with women actually giving more importance to the role of forests in their daily lives. This type of information is critical for policy makers who develop management plans in consultation with beneficiaries participating in the management and protection of their forests.

Expanding experiences and methods to other countries
As the United Republic of Tanzania is just the first of five pilot countries undertaking this type of survey, there is a need to ensure that the information gathered can be looked at as part of a big picture. Thus FAO, in cooperation with the countries, helped develop tools to tailor the approaches according to individual countries’ needs, but also to standardize and harmonize the methodologies so the information can be analysed across the countries.

NAFORMA also collaborates with the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation (UN-REDD). Now, looking towards the future, having baseline data on forest and soil carbon stocks will facilitate the United Republic of Tanzania’s participation in UN-REDD’s proposed REDD+ mechanism. REDD+ will provide payments to countries, related to their progress in decreasing deforestation or forest degradation that, in turn, increases their sequestration of carbon. The wealth of information the survey has provided will also help set up more sustainable forest-management schemes that factor the sustaining of rural livelihoods into national forest plans.