National Forest Monitoring

Towards sustainable and data-driven forest management in Sudan


When we think of Sudan, the first image that comes to mind is vast deserted areas with scattered vegetation. Yet, in this typical northeastern African landscape, forests are among the most important natural resources. They play a crucial environmental role in forming a defence line against the desert creeping southwards. They protect the Nile watershed and contribute to carbon sequestration in these barren zones of the world, giving their importance a regional and global dimension. In order to protect the country's natural wealth, while simultaneously fulfilling various national and international commitments, Sudan is taking significant steps to implement activities to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

"Global efforts to address climate change and development challenges require an approach that puts forest- and nature-based solution at its core," notes FAO Representative to Sudan, Mr Babagana Ahmadu. "Having adequate data-driven and forest-positive climate actions and well-resourced institutions will enable Sudan to achieve its REDD+ goals and contribute to the overall economic development across all sectors."

In the past three years, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been supporting the country in the development of robust National Forest Monitoring Systems (NFMS) that aim to obtain up-to-date and reliable information about the extent and nature of the country's forests. Through a transparent process and open-data approaches, the new information will contribute to guiding decision- and policymaking for the sustainable development of Sudan’s forest resources. The activities have been implemented under the framework of the project "Support for the design of the MRV System in the framework of REDD+ Readiness in the Sudan", led by Sudan's Forests National Corporation (FNC) and the Sudanese Remote Sensing Authority (RSA) with technical support from FAO and financial support from the World Bank under the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF). With the project's closure in March 2021, we look back at the results achieved so far and plan for the steps in the country's REDD+ journey.


Forests and forest loss in Sudan

According to FAO's Forest Resources Assessment Report 2020, Sudan's forest and woodlands are estimated to have decreased at a slow but steady rate, approximately 175.000 ha/year, during the past two decades, due to a variety of drivers. Conversion of natural forests to cropland and pasture has been found to have the most significant direct impact on the country's deforestation rates. In addition, fuelwood harvesting has been identified as a major driver of forest degradation, constituting up to 80% of the national energy supply. Other significant drivers include grazing of domestic animals in woodlands, with devastating effects on tree seedlings and smaller trees, and fire which is frequently used in rural land management.

To effectively analyse and address various types of drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, robust and sustainable forest monitoring is key.


Monitoring forests in Sudan from above and below

National forest monitoring provides crucial information that countries need to manage their forests sustainably and meet various national and international reporting requirements. In Sudan, the forest monitoring process includes data collection, analysis, and dissemination to a variety of stakeholders, and is shaped by specific monitoring needs, environmental conditions and forest types. 

Thanks to the project activities, Sudan has recently finalised its state-of-the-art National Forest Inventory (NFI). The NFI represents an important step in Sudan's journey to monitor and report on its forests' status and is instrumental in providing data in the context of REDD+. However, its scope affects a broader range of aspects and sectors. A multipurpose NFI is primarily a national asset that provides valuable information for informing on policy processes in line with the idea of having "better data for better decisions". Furthermore, the planning and implementation of an NFI yield a number of by-products, including the overall strengthened capacity of relevant national institutions and the improved capacity (technical, equipment, methodologies) of staff, including those at subnational stations. 

"An NFI is a significant logistical and organisational effort for Sudan and its success is a result of the effort of dozens of field crew members that worked tirelessly, often in very challenging conditions.", noted Elwathig MukhtarHamid, Programme Assistant at FAO Sudan.

The estimates on biomass and carbon content are particularly useful as baselines for further work related to REDD+ and carbon offsetting initiatives. Through the project, Sudan was able to compile its first sub-national Forest Reference Level (FRL) submitted to the UNFCCC and has significantly improved its greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting system. Now the country can more accurately estimate the levels of GHG emissions and compare REDD+ results against the reference level; essential steps to support Sudan's climate actions. 

In addition, the multipurpose approach adopted in this NFI allowed to present statistics on the major products obtained from the forest including: plant food, fodder, fire-wood and wood charcoal. 

To access a comprehensive account of the NFI process, its methodological approach, and key results, please go to:

The project had placed a strong emphasis on involving academia in its NFI activities. Fellows from the University of Khartoum and the University of Kordofan  got directly involved in practical work, ensuring quality control of NFI measurements in all of the regions of Sudan. Their participation strengthened the capacity of a new generation of foresters, as they worked side-by-side with international forestry experts.


Looking at Sudan's forests from above

Parallel data-gathering activities through the analysis and interpretation of satellite images were conducted within the framework of the FAO-led project. This allowed professionals from the Forests National Corporation, the Remote Sensing & Seismology Authority and research institutions to increase their capacities to produce precise and timely data to support Sudan in combating deforestation and to help meet national and international climate targets. Remote sensing technologies, which includes sensors, processing software and analysis, have been extensively studied and applied in Sudan in various sectors including Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (AFOLU). By employing remote sensing activities, the project has improved the understanding and monitoring capacities in estimating the status of Sudan's forests and land cover.

“The achievement was possible thanks to FAO's innovative, easy-to-use and open-source forest and land monitoring tools, such as Open Foris and SEPAL, that enabled Sudan to meet its needs for data and information systems that enable accurate, efficient, transparent and cost-effective forest measurement and reporting,” noted Marco Piazza, the project’s Lead Technical Officer at FAO

Remote sensing technologies have also allowed Sudan to review and analyse fire sources, drivers and risk factors - all crucial for identifying risk reduction activities. In addition, remote sensing supported the assessment of the available fuel load for fire, as well as the production of vulnerability maps. The collected information has provided the basis for an updated fire management strategy with activities involving various government agencies as well as local communities.

Moving forward: protecting Sudan's forests for a sustainable and nature-positive future

The National Forest Inventory constitutes a major effort of the Government of Sudan and its relevant agencies. The new database contains a wealth of information that will be made available for further analysis with a cross-sectoral approach. Besides its importance for international reporting commitments, the new set of data is a valuable source for forest managers and decision-makers to develop evidence-based management decisions. The overall improved capacity of various national institutions also ensures the sustainability of the process, which should be seen as an ongoing effort.

“All these achievements result in a better placement of the Government of Sudan in its fight against the detrimental effects of climate change and the protection of its natural resources which still provide the source of livelihood for a large portion of Sudan's population.”, said Sayeda Khalil, the Head of Sudan’s REDD+ unit at the Forests National Corporation.


Moving forward in its REDD+ efforts, Sudan will use the gathered forest data to conserve its natural resources and facilitate sustainable land use management, providing benefits to the millions of people that depend on the forest for their livelihoods and wellbeing. The newly acquired information will also enhance the country's ability to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, contributing to the achievement of Sudan's broader development goals.


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Maryia KUkharava