Monitoreo forestal nacional

Leveraging open-source solutions for forest monitoring: Experiences from Central Africa


The preservation and monitoring of forests in Central Africa has long been a subject of significant interest for foresters, environmental conservationists and scientists. The region, encompassing the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic, holds the second largest continuous tract of forest in the world, representing a critical global carbon sink.

A recent webinar organized by the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) shed light on the invaluable role of open-source platforms like Open Foris and SEPAL in transforming forest monitoring and reporting in these countries.

Introduction: A leap towards sustainable forest monitoring

Julian Fox, FAO National Forest Monitoring Team Leader opened the session with reflections on the evolution of forest monitoring. Julian highlighted the importance of open-source platforms such as Open Foris and cloud computing platforms such as SEPAL for forest and land monitoring. Making platforms, and the code behind them, available for everyone in the public domain ensures sustainability of the platforms and has resulted in a transformation in country reporting on forests.

“90% of countries submitting forest reference emission levels to the UNFCCC have employed open-source platforms like SEPAL, Collect Earth and Collect Earth Online, resulting in formal submissions accounting for over 10 billion tonnes of CO2 emission reductions. This milestone marks a significant step towards sustainable forest management and climate action”, Julian stated, “ CAFI’s study on drivers of deforestation and degradation takes this a step further to understand what is driving forest less, and providing insights on what is needed to further reduced deforestation. This is transformational and provides an approach that we should apply across all geographies”.

Regarding the methodology of the study, Estelle Fach from the CAFI Secretariat underlined that it was developed with a strong emphasis on collaboration, consensus and transparency that guaranteed its robustness. “The transparency characterizing this study is evident, the methods are open, the platforms and data are free and accessible, and the methodology is replicable", Estelle affirmed.


Local experiences with global tools: The country perspectives

The CAFI project spanned six countries and covered more than 4 million km² of diverse types of forests and savannahs, the second largest continuous expanse of forest in the world and an irreplaceable global carbon sink.

The session included insightful inputs from representatives of the six Central African countries.  They shared their hands-on experiences and the benefits derived from utilizing SEPAL and other Open Foris tools:

Héritier Kondjo from the Democratic Republic of Congo highlighted SEPAL's impact on enhancing activity data preparation and image analysis, which has significantly enriched the country’s technical capacity to monitor forests. ” The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has adopted an approach using SEPAL, which is a data platform that allows the DRC to prepare its activity data and establish the collection of images that enable data analysis. And this has also had a very enriching impact on the country.”


Tatiana Nana from Cameroon described her learning experience, which not only improved technical skills but also fostered a better understanding of deforestation and land use changes. She stressed the importance of continuous training for national stakeholders to keep abreast of methodological advancements. “It was a very enriching experience of learning by doing, during which I learned to create mosaics, perform classifications by playing with different algorithms and more […] and also to study the drivers of degradation and deforestation, produce land cover maps, changes using the SEPAL platform.”


Josefina Mbulito from Equatorial Guinea noted the importance of filling data gaps and building capacity. “The most recent studies date from 2014, so it was a great experience to learn to use Open Foris tools to update our land cover maps and change for the 2015-2022 time period.”


Conan Vassily Obame from Gabon emphasized the operational capabilities developed for forest surveillance through SEPAL and Collect Earth Online, noting their integration into daily data production work-flows, enhancing the country's forest surveillance capabilities. “The project has allowed us to take ownership of these platforms (SEPAL and Collect Earth Online). And on this basis, we have been able to develop a number of operational capacities, particularly in terms of forest monitoring."


Carine Milandou from the Republic of Congo made the important connection between this regional project and the national monitoring efforts. “The team in Congo strengthened its capacity in data processing methods which will be used to implement the SYNA-MNV (national forest monitoring system initiative), the results of which will be used to update the national emissions reference levels and biennial update report submission.”


Francis Inicko Gangyo from the Central African Republic affirmed the value of these platforms in enhancing their countries' data banks and promoting hands-on training for environmental ministries and students. “We are going to focus these trainings much more with SEPAL and Collect Earth Online, with colleagues, and with students from the University of Bangui who need them the most."



Methodology and key findings of the study

Aurélie Shapiro (FAO), Chief Technical Advisor of the “Global Assessment of Direct Drivers of Deforestation and Degradation” CAFI project and lead author of the article “Small scale agriculture continues to drive deforestation and degradation in fragmented forests in the Congo Basin (2015–2020)”, presented the methodology employed in the study. Aurélie explained that the study avoids oversimplifying the causes of deforestation, recognizing the overlapping nature of drivers at decision-making scales. The study analyzes a total of eight drivers, including small- and large-scale agriculture, artisanal and industrial forestry, roads and infrastructure, villages and settlements, and small- and large-scale mining.  The study methodology used SEPAL and Google Earth Engine for a more comprehensive and statistically validate forest change over time. "It is really important to see where these specific drivers are affecting what types of forests, to really help understand how stakeholders can address what is happening and which actors are relevant ", Aurelie added.

The main findings of the study revealed that:

-        Forest disturbances are predominantly occurring in accessible areas near settlements, roads, and other infrastructure, and in forests that are already fragmented, with reduced above ground biomass.

-        Disturbances have a disproportionate effect on certain forest types, particularly dry open forests, which are disproportionately affected by disturbances in comparison to dense forests, which are more common.

-        The "rural complex" archetype, consisting of small-scale agriculture, settlements, roads accounts for over 60% of deforestation and degradation, underscoring the intertwined issues of food security, land tenure, poverty, and climate change. These underlying issues need to be addressed when planning forestry or climate interventions.

-        Certain drivers affect different forest fragmentation classes. For example, industrial forestry and artisanal mining are more likely to affect core, intact forests than other drivers, indicating the need for interventions to address specific actors in different contexts.


The way forward

Looking ahead, the study advocates the development of climate-friendly agricultural practices and better land use planning. This approach aims to balance human needs with the protection of ecosystems, promoting coexistence with our forests.

The webinar also presented a compelling case for open-source approaches in addressing complex environmental challenges. Estelle Fach, CAFI secretariat, encouraged the audience to "make use of these platforms to assess the drivers of deforestation and degradation over time, across spaces, and among the various forest types." The collective experiences of Central African nations underscore the transformative potential of open-source and cloud-based platforms in enhancing forest monitoring and management. As we move forward, the continuous evolution of Open Foris platforms, coupled with ongoing training and capacity building will be essential.


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