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FAO sets standards to improve national forest monitoring systems

Free open-source tools will help to tackle deforestation and climate change

Photo: ©FAO/Simon Maina
With the help of Open Foris tools Tanzania completed their first national forest inventories earlier this year.

10 October 2014, Rome - FAO has launched free software tools that it hopes will improve the way many developing nations monitor the state of their forests to tackle deforestation and climate change.


The tools are designed to assist countries through the entire lifecycle of a forest inventory - from assessment, design and field data collection to analysis and reporting. The governments of Finland and Germany have supported the development of the software called Open Foris.  


Global knowledge sharing platform


Accurate information about forests is crucial for governments to manage their natural resources sustainably, but nearly 80 percent of developing countries have difficulty obtaining and using basic information about their forest resources.


At the same time, deforestation and forest degradation - largely taking place in developing countries - are among the largest sources of carbon emissions globally caused by humans.


"Many countries simply do not have a full picture of what is happening in their forests, and without that knowledge it is hard to develop effective forest policies to combat deforestation and forest degradation or to advance national climate change strategies," Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Assistant Director-General for Forestry, explained.


"We hope that Open Foris will be a game changer, as it is the first comprehensive open source tool that will not only guide the countries through the whole process of data collection and analysis but will also encourage and facilitate open knowledge sharing in an innovative way. Increased transparency will help the policy makers obtain the information they need to make informed decisions," he added.


The new FAO tools also simplify the complex process of transforming raw data such as tree measurements and satellite imagery into valuable information in the form of interactive web pages with statistics, graphs, maps and reports.


In addition, the software includes built-in tools to help countries meet international reporting requirements, for example in the context of REDD+ activities related to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and increasing the carbon stock in forests.


Piloting in more than ten countries


Released   today at the International Union of Forest Research Organizations' World Congress in Salt Lake City, Open Foris tools are already being successfully tested  in more than ten countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.


For example, earlier this year Ecuador and Tanzania completed their first national forest inventories with the help of Open Foris tools, and a number of experts from other countries, such as Argentina, Bhutan, Papua New Guinea and Uruguay have recently received training to use different components of the software.


Viet Nam carries out a national forest inventory every five years, and for the first time has been piloting Open Foris in one region after adapting the open source code to use the software in Vietnamese.

Forest rangers collect information on canopy cover and the number, size, species and quality of trees as well as the use of forest resources by local populations before entering the data into Open Foris software back at the office.

"It enables us to calculate variables and changes to the forest and tree resources within a certain period, as well as changes to other environmental values of the forests such as carbon pools, biodiversity and non-timber forest products," said Ho Manh Tuong of Viet Nam's Forest Inventory and Planning Institute. "Through the program, the complete national forest stock can be assessed."

The inventory will soon become even more efficient when rangers start using an Open Foris tool that enables them to enter data directly with their smartphones or  tablets, eliminating the need to input information collected on paper forms.

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