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Ma Qiang, Forestry Officer (Econometrics),

FAO Headquarters, Rome

Current state for forestry information systems in South and Southeast Asia

The availability of forestry information in Asia varies from country to country and is highly correlated with a country's level of development. Even within any given country, the various components of the forestry information system are typically at different levels of development.

Despite the increasing awareness of the importance of information in planning for sustainable forestry development, most countries in Asia still do not have an adequate system of statistics pertaining to the forestry sector. The current information are below the requirements to support sustainable forest management and the available forestry data are often out-of-date and incomplete in terms of (a) the range of commodities covered (b) the range of variables or data sets covered, and (c) geographical coverage. Furthermore, even when data are available they are often difficult to access and their reliability is often questionable. The data is thus often ignored and not used in any meaningful way. e.g. in some countries, useful information on forest resources may exist but it is not readily available to national decision-makers or forest industries as they make strategic decisions regarding the forestry sector.

National forestry data come from many sources including censuses and surveys as well as from administrative records. As the different institutions involved are not always aware of each other's activities, there is often considerable duplication of effort and, in many cases, conflicting data are reported for the same items. When it comes to data relating to the depletion of land resources and their environmental effects the situation is worse. Finally, even when data relating to the forestry sector are generally available, it has seldom been recognised that the different data components often have different coverage and time frames thus requiring special processing, tabulations, adjustments, etc., prior to their usage in an integrated manner or for the purpose of a particular study or analysis.

Timely, easily available and accurate information on forest resources and their utilisation is a precondition for sustainable forest management (SFM) based on economically, environmentally and socially balanced forest policies. Therefore, a special effort on data collection in required to provide information on a national, regional and global scale. That information, together with other statistics can be used as indicators of sustainable forest management and provide information for opportunities for investments and adjustments in practices and policies.

Key constraints

Institutional arrangements

The national Forestry Statistics System typically suffers from a lack of clear identity and ownership. While National Statistics Offices (NSOs) are generally mandated with the responsibility for all official statistics, responsibility for forestry statistics is, in many instances, delegated to the Ministry of Forestry (MOF) which is often technically ill equipped to assume this responsibility. The establishment of appropriate and functional institutional arrangements in each participating country is considered a key element of the programme with well-defined linkages established between the NSOs and the MOFs as well as a clear delineation of responsibilities. The capacity to manage the system and the technical capacity to ensure the integrity and quality of the statistics produced, must both be ensured through the institutional arrangements.


Forest censuses, surveys and other statistical inquiries are often undertaken in isolation and there is a general lack of understanding and co-ordination between statistical agencies producing the data (data producers) and offices undertaking economic analysis, planning and decision-making (data users). Co-ordination of activities is also essential both between the various producers of forestry statistics and also between the forestry statistics system, other sectoral statistical systems and within the overall national statistics system. This co-ordination is best achieved through the establishment of a `high-level' steering group and technical working groups. Not only co-ordination among data producers, but also co-ordination between producers and users of statistics is an essential key to ensure the relevance and the sustainability of the forestry information system.

Data collection, validation and dissemination

Poor data integration from various sources and a lack of `value added' through poor access and use of available data is another weak area of information. Some Asian countries suffer from poor data management characterised by poor data access, a multiplicity of data sources and conflicting data sets, a general lack of analysis and data use and difficulties in integrating data from different sources. The overall effect of this poor data management is that available data have little or no intrinsic value. On the other hand, for many of the countries of South Asia and Southeast Asia, a weak national institutional capacity to collect problem-oriented data, to analyse and to disseminate required information; lack of transparency and accessibility of collected and needed information; lack of tested procedures for collecting essential but missing data for sustainable forest management; and failure in forest policy (strategy) implementation.

Opportunities and challenges

New methodologies and technologies

Advantage should be taken of new methodologies and technologies. While much research has been carried out on developing new and appropriate methodologies for collecting forestry statistics, the results have rarely been put into practise. These research findings need to be consolidated and documented and practical manuals developed so that countries can use these new methods for collecting forestry data. There have also been very rapid advances in technology associated with data collection, processing and dissemination and these new technologies should be introduced where considered appropriate and cost effective.

Skills and human resources at regional level

While the national skills and human resource base in a single country may be weak, a considerable skill and human resource base exists within the region. This regional resource base should be used to its full advantage through the promotion of technical co-operation and networking among participating countries and the sharing of experiences.

New information areas

Any national or international intervention in the forestry sector should be considered in the context of an agreed policy framework. The assessment of national forestry policies must be based on a sufficiently good database and analysis. The need for a database expanded beyond forest cover, production and trade to a broader base of information, has been assessed in connection with intergovernmental efforts to define the criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management. Examples include data on sustainable wood supply potentials, information on trees outside forests and plantation forests; more in-depth analysis of fuelwood consumption and production; non-wood forest products; and social contributions of forests.

Key strengthening processes in forestry information system

Institutional strengthening

Appropriate institutional arrangements will be set-up in support of the system of forestry statistics. Functions, duties and responsibilities will be defined at all levels of the system and linkages established. Coordinating mechanisms will be put in place. Skill levels will be enhanced to ensure adequate managerial and technical capacity exists to enable the system to operate efficiently.

Data collection process

An integrated data collection system is a key component of the Forestry Information System. Data collection exercises (surveys) should be integrated, to the extent possible, to enable the widest possible use of the data. Master sample frames, panel surveys and extended household surveys will all be considered. Appropriate methodologies will be developed to provide cost efficient and reliable data at various levels of disaggregation.

Data processing process

An efficient data processing system is an essential component of the forestry information system. In order to promote ownership of the data at the sub-national level, decentralized data capture, editing and validation will be encouraged where facilities and resources permit. Likewise vertical information flows will be designed as two-way with information flowing from the sub-national authorities to the national authorities and the processed data flowing back for use by the sub-national administrations for analysis and policy formulation.

Data storage and dissemination process

Data storage and dissemination are key factors in providing access to the data. Advantage will be taken of recent technological developments in data transmission, to the extent that facilities allow and resources are available. An optimal model is to establish a data bank (one-stop-centre) to provide a single source of forestry statistics and designed as a sectoral data bank within the larger national statistical information system. Focus will be placed on the widest possible dissemination of information within the country as well as establishing external data flows.

Data analysis and data use process

The use of the data is the point at which value is attached to the data. If the data is not used it has no value and should, therefore, not have been collected. In order to maximize the value of the data, emphasis will be placed on data analysis for a wide variety of purposes. As well as providing a direct input to decision making and a better understanding of development issues, the analysis of the data can be expected to highlight weaknesses in the present system and lead to improvements in the future systems thus creating a continuous analysis and improvement cycle.

Strategies on enhancing the forestry information system

Ideally, strategies will be based on a partnership approach between the various producers of forestry statistics, the producers and users of these statistics and between the national governments and the international community.

National systems of forestry statistics should be conceived within a comprehensive long-term development framework and adopt an integrated approach both within the sectoral statistical system and within the broader national statistical system to minimize duplication of effort and to maximise the usefulness (value) of the data.

Co-ordination is essential for a successful programme. Co-ordination should take place both between the statistical activities within the country and between the Government and, where applicable, the donor community supporting statistical development. Coordination between donors is also essential and external interventions should be conceived to support the established national statistical programme.

One useful means of promoting stronger national systems is to build regional networks among national statistical correspondents to increase the exchange of data and information management methods; this can be accomplished through meetings in conjunction with the regional workshops. During the workshops the participants can review the particular challenges faced in each country and to share experienced solutions to common problems. This is the approach that has brought us together today.

We trust you have found these overview thoughts of interest and look forward to hearing your own experiences in your national presentations on these issues.

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