Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)


Online consultation on the first draft of the FAO voluntary guidelines on national forest monitoring

Reliable information on forests is fundamental for improving the management of forest resources. Often, however, this information applies beyond forest boundaries: it can, for example, be used as an indicator of biodiversity, hydrology, and soil conservation. High quality and accessible forest information is also needed to fulfil the reporting requirements of many international agreements, such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

To obtain timely and reliable forest information at different scales, there must be clear guidance on how to collect, compile, and analyse it. In this context, the Twenty-First Session of the Committee on Forestry (COFO 21), held in September 2012, recommended that FAO continue to support the efforts of member countries to strengthen their National Forest Monitoring Systems (NFMS).

The preparation of the voluntary guidelines on national forest monitoring began in September 2012. The guidelines will present a set of good practice principles supported by a set of decision-making tools for the planning and implementation of a multipurpose, scientifically sound NFMS.

Phase I of the drafting process has already been completed (and endorsed by COFO 22 in July 2014); this phase included the development of a definition of national forest monitoring, and a description of the guidelines’ scope and principles (Sections I and II). Phase II, currently under way, will be a compilation of good practices and technical recommendations on national forest monitoring (Section III).

The first draft of the Voluntary Guidelines Section III has now been prepared, please download it here. As part of the consultative process prior to its finalization and external peer review, the FAO Forestry Department is seeking your input to further improve the draft, through this online consultation managed by the FSN Forum. The guidelines will be released for the consideration of COFO at its 23rd Session in July 2016.

Comments and input are welcome on all chapters of Section III, but in particular on the following aspects:

  • Does the draft adequately cover all elements needed to establish and sustain an NFMS?
  • What other technical, logistical or policy issues should the document cover?
  • Given that the voluntary guidelines are being designed for use by NFMS managers, what aspects of Section III could be improved to meet this objective?
  • Is there any redundant content that could be removed to make the document more concise?

We also kindly invite respondents to provide relevant case studies on country experiences, including any instances of “errors to be avoided”.

Thank you very much for engaging with FAO Forestry on this consultation. We look forward to a rich and fruitful discussion!

Eduardo Mansur, Director

Forest Assessment, Management and Conservation Division

FAO Forestry Department

This activity is now closed. Please contact [email protected] for any further information.

* Click on the name to read all comments posted by the member and contact him/her directly
  • Read 24 contributions
  • Expand all

Joberto Veloso de Freitas

Serviço Florestal Brasileiro

Dear David,

Please consider my main comments on the Voluntary Guidelines on National Forest Monitoring:

  1. As general observation, the VG will help the countries to establish their systems, as well as they will serve as a reference for the increasing community interested in forest monitoring in the context of international agenda that use the information coming from NFMS (UNFCC, CBD, etc);
  2. I think that term National Forest Assessment and Monitoring (NFAM system) seems to be more appropriate. Monitoring means to assess in time, being therefore just a characteristic of the system, less important that the assessment itself; Most of the NFIs are designed to be continuous forest inventories, which is the monitoring functionality of them;
  3. Despite the proposal try to differentiate between NFI and by stating a definition or meaning for national forest monitoring (Section I: “…a comprehensive process that includes collection, analysis and dissemination of forest related data and the derivation of information….”), it seems that both the proposed definition and the content of the whole guidelines are quite related to national forest inventories (NFIs);
  4. It is important to establish a much more clear link between NFIs and the proposed term NFMS, as for many country one can affirm they are completely different things and weak NFI processes already in place (it can happen, believe);
  5. There could be a Glossary with the main terms of the “forest monitoring” at the end of the document;
  6. The figure 1 (page 7) is very helpful for giving a general view of the framework in which a NFMS should be developed; It could be helpful also if similar figures were provided at some lower levels (data management, for example); The text is to dense!
  7. I found almost nothing about the importance of species botanical identification in the context of the NFMS. It is important to note that species variable only matter when the species are well identified and, for tropical countries, their scientific botanical identification is crucial for the quality of information;
  8. In item 2.3 (developing partnerships and collaboration) it should be helpful to have a list of relevant fields of the NFMS; and also a list of the main (item 3.2) stakeholders groups normally involved or interested in NFMS;
  9. There should be guidelines on how to integrate NFMS with other agendas at national (agriculture, for example) and at international level (climate change, biodiversity, etc);
  10. At the end of the guidelines there could be a framework to help countries to measure the progress towards their NFMS planning and implementation. It could be a “check list” matrix with the main content of the VG in a format that one could “check” what is already available and what is not yet;
  11. I missed a section dedicated to the main results or group of results that a NFMS should provide and, more important, a possible path to link these results to police formulation or potential applications at national level;
  12. In the item 4.1.4 (Review of existing information) you could provide pros and cons of using old and existing forest inventories as base for new NFMS;
  13. It would be good to mention the link between NFMS and NFIS (national forest information systems), for example as one the main provider (NFMS) of forest information on the forest resources;
  14. I expected to find more about the socioeconomic aspect of a NFMS, as the interviews as part of the NFI are being used by some countries and also it seems to be considered as important by FAO; There should be similar guidelines on this topic for sampling design, variables and statistical analysis.
  15.  The “dynamic” aspect of the NFMS was almost forgot; There could be at least a section dedicated to how to deal with the long term dimension of NFMS and with the statistical implications of calculating changes in time;
  16. The use of new technologies and trends in forest monitoring could be part of the VG;
  17. Despite the Remote Sensing is mentioned in the item 4.2.1 in the context of the statistical design, I think that more emphasis could be given to their use as part of the NFMS. Questions like “Is it possible to have a NFMS based only in remote sensing?” and “How remote sensing could be one of the pillars for field work planning and to scale up ground plot data?” Are the guidelines only on the traditional ground national forest inventories?
  18. When we think about national forest inventory is very clear that we should have one standard methodology for the whole country, an appropriate sampling design and one plot configuration as much as possible. However, when thinking about a NFM “system” it could be important to mention something about sub national initiatives when they are also doing forest monitoring at smaller scales. For example, permanent sample plots within Forest Management Units designed for forest dynamics and growth and yield studies (m3/ha/year) and even plots designed to monitor biodiversity. Perhaps a small topic on the possibility of including such other monitoring system as national information could be appropriate, off course without mixing data. By non-mentioning them, it seems that they are not forest monitoring, they do not exist or are useless for the NFM system, which is not true.

I suggest the following recommendation:

Automatic plausibility and completeness checks DURING THE FIELD ASSESSMENT are very important in terms of data quality. Only in the field a reliable data correction is possible. Later at the office nobody knows the real situation.

Congratulations for the idea and the effor to develop this very useful document!

Please find the following comments,

1. The document is talking about forest monitoring system, but even though it is implicit (in this section) that one main approach of this document is to keep both Remote sensing monitoring and monitoring with field data. The most of the people and the information available in the Web are more focused on Remote sensing monitoring approach. So many people cannot feel identified with this document, I did not check  the previous chapters if this issue is discussed, but in this sectiion most of the discussions are focused on forest inventories, so it would be nice  to make visible the linkage between both approaches and how them works together to finally evaluate forests and forest resources and services.

2. In some parts of the document the descriptions are much detailed than others, so the document rather than guidelines seems to be a protocol or manual. In some sections is too much technical, for the understanding of all the broad public, or the stakeholders that are not biometricians.

3. In all the document a relation with the NFMS for MRV requirements for REDD+ mechanism is missing.

In chapter 2.1 (Institutionalization): I suggest to include in the title: “and public financial mechanisms”. The NFMS should be a mandate from the Governments to provide a public service on reliable data on forests. Lack of permanent financial mechanisms is one of the main bottlenecks to install permanently the NFMS.

4. Chapter 2.1 where say "permanently institutionalized NFMS can efficiently promote"..., the item 4 can include: "Allow governments to report in a consistent and transparent manner to international commitments.

5. Institutionalization also can adress to governments to formalize the public financial and investment mechanisms. Financial sustainability is missing, and it can be a principle.

6. Chapter 2.2: National capacities should start with the institutional structure. After develop a legal framework for institutionalization, it is necessary that countries analyze and adapt the previous institutional structure at national and subnational level (the last one, when applicable).   This  step allows to build other aspects on country capacities as human resources and infrastructure.  The document just mention about human capacities. It is necessary develop more about infrastructure, for example appropriate equipped offices (national and sub-national), including buildings, furnishing, hardware, software, satellite imageries, measuring equipment,  vehicles (cars, boats, motorcycles), etc.

7. Chapter 2.2 (capacities): I suggest to make a list of the institutional capacities divided on technical and operational management.  Technical capacities: forest inventory sampling techniques (critical), remote sensing, field measurements,  data processing and analysis, information-data base development, communication techniques. Operational management are necessary on planning (this is critical), human resources, administrative and logistics management.

8. Chapter 2.2 paraph 2: Is less strong to say: The persons responsible to implement the NFMS should have the appropriate level of education to reach the necessary knowledge and experiences through specific trainings and learning-by-doing. on the field of expertise

7. Chapter 3.3. Stakeholder engagement can be supported by the concepts around the dialog mechanisms for NFP.

8. Chapter 4.1. This sections is focused on methodological design. Maybe is better to write a more apppropiate title.

9. Terms and definitions are very important for the field data protocol.

10. For the operation design it is important to be developed by a person that know the public adminsitrition. 

11. Chapter 4.3.3 The administrative staff should understand the data collection procedures. When the funds comes from public sources there are many constraints and procedures that are not easy to manage and can evolve in high risks over the data.

12. Chapter 4.3.5 Fieldwork planning: It is needed to take into account the administrative modality to operate the monitoring system. Some countries has the possibility to contract governamental staff to operate (regular staff), other should outsourcing the field work and quality control. On the other hand, to develop whatever direct government staff, or outsourcing, the administrative modality to mobilize the public sources are very important to understand, not only the persons in charge of the NFI, but also the Ministry of Finance and financing departments in the institution in charge. This situation is a bottleneck to operate as cost-efficient, rather than the cost-efficient in the methodology design.

13. Chapter 4.4 data management and analysis: Should be discussed the institution in charge for the data analysis, in some cases the institution for data collection it should not be the same for the data analysis. For example the forestry authority can collect the data and a research institute analyze the data. The mesage is that the data analysis process should be institutionalized too.

14. Field work protocol should include how to re-measure the permanent plots, if it is talking about permante forest monitoring.

15. Continue motivation for the field crew is the best practice for the quality control in measurements, because the field work is a hard work. Motivation  should be part of the training programme. Also a internal check should be part of the work in the field. 

16.On the other hand. Insurance for the field crews is crucial. In many countries the security of the field crews is missed as in this document. It is necessary to mention in the field protocol or develop a separate protocol for contingencies.








Dear Colleagues;

I went over the document National Forest Monitoring manual under preparation and I have the following suggestions;

  1. In the section 4.3 operational design and 4.4 ….. reporting- I think we surely do need method that is scientifically correct, cheap and easy to use so that we get standard information from the field, analyze them and report the results.  Based on these results evidence-based decision, policy-making for sustainable forest mgt as well as awareness raising is formulated in various levels. Therefore, I suggest that we have to give some examples of the method that could be used and when time comes they could be improved…  It is an open suggestion AND
  2. In my view, the forest health is very important: a healthy forest protects soil, water, animals and also give recreational and religious benefits.  On the other hand if the forest heath is deteriorated, water problem will be triggered, soil will be degraded, nutrient from the forest will be deteriorated and even due to lack of forest natural disasters such as debris flows, shallow landslides and floods will be triggered…  and much more.  I suggest we have to accommodate eco-DRR carefully. 

Hope it helps

Best regards

Yoganath Adikari (FOMD)

Jim Penman & Carly Green

United Kingdom
1 The document contains much useful material, particularly on institutional arrangements for NFMS and NFIs.
2 There are no references in the present document – are these to be added?
More specific
3 At 47 pages Section III is much longer than the previous Sections I and II (together about 12 pages). Of course, Section III was always intended to be the section with the detailed guidance but the shift to much more specific material may give difficulty in countries adopting the guidelines as a whole.
4 The language seems very prescriptive – for example there are about 85 instances where the word shall is used, often in a heading governing multiple points. Sections I and II together use shall only once. Probably shall (which carries connotations of legal text) should not be used at all in a document which is, after all, voluntary. It would be better to make recommendations. This would be more consistent with a stepwise approach as foreseen in the REDD+ COP decisions.
5 The document sometimes confuses NFMS (institutional arrangements) with NFIs (the statistical system which may be part of the NFMS). In fact the latter part of the document, although it often refers to NFMS, reads more like a manual on how to develop and implement an NFI. It would be useful to do a review of the use of terms to see which is meant.
6 Although the document says early on that it takes account of the requirements of REDD+, it really focusses only on NFI-based systems and does not mention IPCC emissions inventory guidance and guidelines at all. Use of the IPCC guidance and guidelines is requested by the COP. They allow gain-loss calculations that do not necessarily require an NFI – although they can of course use NFI data if available. The GFOI Methods and Guidance document covers the linkage between the IPCC guidelines and the REDD+ estimate in some detail and cross referencing both IPCC and the MGD could be useful as a way to avoid duplication and extensive additions.
7 Joint use of remote sensing and ground-based data are mentioned but in much less detail than NFIs. This is also covered by the MGD which provides information on the availability and application of freely available remotely sensed data.
Jim Penman (UCL/MGD Advisory Group Chair) and Carly Green (EAS/MGD Component Manager)
30th October 2015

Thanks for excellent work done! The foundation elements are very well selected and presented.

Here some inputs & thoughts to be considered when further revising the paper:

1. In the field assessment, better to avoid collecting aggregated data if variables of interest can be measured by interval or ratio scale. Aggregation can be always done at the reporting stage. This is a typical case e.g. with seedling/sapling data.

2. For saving time and money, is recommended to avoid measuring too much data. For example it is waste of money to record every single tree height in savanna type if (almost) the same accuracy leve (in terms of volume/biomass/carbon) can be reached through recording some well-selected height sample trees in sample plots and then using localized tree height curves in the data analysis phase.

3. In planning the data collecting protocol, it should be known how the data will be analyzed. There are cases where for example depth of litter has been recorded, but no clear idea how that data is utililized in computing carbon in litter.

4. Database: data should be preferably normalized, even though field forms are not showing normalized data structure. (Maybe too technical topic into this manual?).

5. Database: correct data hierarchy should be in place in order to utilize inheritance, for example a sample tree should inherit properties of plot section, plot, and cluster. This makes writing of data analysis scripts easier when using object-oriented language, as R.

6. Please add examples of computing variance estimators for stratified sampling (both area based, and point sampling methods).

7. Chapter 4.3.1 (manual): It is recommended to include definitions & explanations for terms and variables, e.g. what is a 'tree', 'shrub', 'forest', 'breast height','stump height' etc. in the national context.

8. Somewhere it could be mentioned that “Not to change field protocols during an inventory cycle”. This can cause difficulties in data analysis & reporting phase!


Shaun Suitor

Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning

Great piece of work.

One comment on the “building teams“ section, we’ve found it much more efficient to employ contractor teams to measure plots and we then audit them to ensure compliance with procedure. So essentially we leave it up to the marketplace to build and maintain forest monitoring capacity (with a small amount of help form us -2 days training), instead of us having to do it “in house”. As it is inherently difficult for government organisations to build and maintain such specialised technical skills.

Also, we’ve spent the last 6 years developing an extensive suite of standard operating procedures for the Victorian Forest Monitoring Program, (~700 pages), and we update them after every field measurement season. They are available online. So, feel free to have a look and compare with yours. I’m happy to talk about these anytime. [email protected].

Link to Victorian Forest Monitoring Program: