Generating forest data for proper policy formulation
FAO supporting developing countries in preparing forest and tree resource assessments
7 March 2005, Rome - In Guatemala and a number of other developing countries FAO is helping governments assess and improve their forest management through inventories of forest and tree resources, including their uses and benefits.
"Reliable national data on forest and tree resources in developing countries is necessary for scientific research and proper policy formulation at all levels - local, national and international," said Mohamed Saket, a forestry expert at FAO.
Many developing countries, however, lack the capacity to conduct proper forest resource assessments. FAO is therefore assisting developing countries across the world in conducting inventories and assessments to produce accurate information.
The findings are analyzed and used to tackle existing shortcomings and improve forestry policies for sustainable forest management.
Growing need for reliable data
Before the comprehensive FAO inventory in Guatemala in 2003 and 2004, representative data on the quality of forests, their species distribution and the geographical location of timber resources and other non-wood forest products in the country did not exist. Forest institutions did not have the data needed to support implementation of forest management plans, track the evolution of forest and tree resources, or follow up policies and laws.
The absence of data on forest benefits, including wood and non-wood forest products as well as environmental and sociocultural services, made it difficult to develop policies that would optimize the benefits from forest and tree resources while sustainably managing them to the benefit of the country's economy, environment and people.
Trees are increasingly grown outside forests and the contribution of these trees to the forest sector, food security and other benefits needs to be accounted for. An analysis of the forest sector within an environmental and socio-economic context and its role in the local economies of communities was overdue.
Cost-efficient and accurate
To overcome these shortcomings, FAO helped Guatemala launch a project in 2003 to develop and strengthen national capacities for assessment of forest resources.
FAO assists in the planning and execution of systematic field sampling of forests and trees outside forests using methods that, at low cost, generate accurate estimates within a reasonable time, usually two years.
"The inventory and assessment in Guatemala has broadened the knowledge base on forests and tree resources in the country," said Saket. "The FAO method generates good, relevant, comprehensive and cost-efficient information on forest resources, their uses and management. And this is what is needed for national decision-making."
The method is designed as a compromise between the volume of data needed, the precision of results and the cost of the survey. National personnel are trained in planning and conducting the inventories and in analyzing data, which will secure long-term monitoring of forest resources.
Use of data for policy formulation
As a result of the project, the government of Guatemala is now able to evaluate problems in its forest management, which contributes to suitable policies and legislation.
An analysis of data collected in Guatemala shows, for example, to what extent agricultural and forestry interests create conflicts when user rights of products and services provided by forests and trees are not clear.
The collected data also reveals that despite the high production capacity of forests in Guatemala, conversion of land to other uses continues, with possible repercussions on the economy in the long run. And it suggests that current agroforestry and silvopastoral activities may not be optimal, taking into account the actual situation of tree resources outside forests.
The study also highlights the potential of natural forest management in providing not only products, but also services related to disaster prevention, proper water resource management, carbon sequestration, protection of genetic resources, food security as well as recreation and tourism.
"The government of Guatemala is taking stock of the recommendations that came out of the data analysis to improve its existing policies," said Saket.
FAO has six similar ongoing projects in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Honduras, Lebanon, the Philippines and Zambia, and a project in Costa Rica has been completed.
Twelve other such projects are in the pipeline and an online reference to help implement these assessments has been developed and launched by FAO together with the International Union of Forest Research Organizations.
Information Officer, FAO
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