National Forest Monitoring Systems

FAO has supported more than 50 countries in their development of robust National Forest Monitoring Systems (NFMS) and assessments, with the goal of developing reliable forest resource information for application in creating national forest policies, planning and sustainable development. Forest monitoring systems include measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) functions and aim to produce high-quality, reliable data on forests, including forest-carbon estimates, that are critical to the battle against climate change caused by among others deforestation and degradation of forests. 

NFMS components include: 

  • satellite land monitoring systems (SLMS) and other data collection providing information for activity data (AD)
  • National Forest Inventories (NFI) or other data collection providing information on emission factors (EF)




Satellite land monitoring systems

FAO helps countries to identify and collect activity data for their relevant land use and change (LULUC), forestry, REDD+ and other forest related activities. For example, spatial data on deforestation and afforestation/reforestation is typically collected through satellite data and the changes can be monitored through a satellite land monitoring system. FAO supports and facilitates country processes to develop national capacities to conceptualize, design and implement a national SLMS for forestry and LULUC and to monitor area changes. Such information is the basis for data input into national greenhouse gas inventories, Forest Reference (Emission) Level (FREL/FRL) construction, REDD+ results and BR & NDC reporting. Information on forest areas and area changes from SLMS can also support domestic efforts and implementation as for example to improve forest management and forest conservation. 

Many countries publish their national forest products on publicly available web geoportals, which increases data transparency for the public and for (inter)national reporting mechanisms. FAO supports generation of the activity data by assisting the countries with mapping-related programming, administration and accuracy assessments of existing national and global products in order to generate country estimates. As well, FAO provides technical support to assist with conceptualisation, design and deployment of national data portals.

The UN-REDD Programme has deployed 22 portals in countries in three regions, and is in the design phase for a few others. These will be launched following consultations with government on the data publication and the portals will be maintained in the country by government staff. Training sessions as well as maintenance trainings are also planned. At the country level, technical support for this work includes discussing technical options and practical solutions for SLMS, supporting country decisions on generation and dissemination of data, and supporting domestic momentum toward improved forest monitoring and improved forest management.

National forest inventories

FAO works with countries to strengthen their capacities in designing, collecting, analysing and reporting data from national forest inventories (NFIs) to monitor forest resources through multi-purpose inventories. These involve the collection of bio-physical data that can satisfy national and international information requirements on forests, their management, carbon stock and biodiversity. In addition, in many forest inventories socio-economic information is collected to understand the anthropogenic impact on forests and their role in sustainable livelihoods. 

Multipurpose NFI is also one of the key sources of relevant data for national GHG reporting, FREL/FRL construction and reporting. NFIs are a key information source for modern approaches to forest management and associated planning processes.

At the country level, support is provided on all aspects of developing an NFI. Capacity building and training efforts are tailored to each country’s specific needs and context, and range from forest-inventory planning, field-data collection, data entry, analysis and reporting, biomass modelling, quality assurance and quality control, integration with remote sensing, communication and dissemination, as well as data archiving, sharing and documentation. 

National GHG inventories

FAO supports capacity development for national GHG inventory systems in the context of the UNFCCC. Well-developed national GHG inventory systems will ensure consistency among the forest reference (emission) levels, REDD+ results reports and the national GHG inventory estimates. Work focuses on both technical and functional capacities. Technical capacities for the national GHG inventory include the ability to work with data and carry out calculations. Functional capacities include system-related aspects such as inventory planning and management, data sharing, quality checking and continuous improvement.

At the country level, the capacity development approach includes a range of products and results: mapping of existing institutional arrangements, capacity assessment and gap analysis, carrying out GHG inventory calculations in several software packages, and reviews of existing GHG inventories.

FAO tools for NFMS 

FAO Open Foris software tools


The Open Foris (OF) initiative is led by FAO Forestry to support multi-purpose forest inventories, data processing and dissemination of results. OF provides a set of free and open-source software tools to facilitate flexible and efficient data collection, analysis, and reporting for field and satellite data. The initiative is a collaborative effort by numerous public and private institutions and hosted by FAO’s Forestry Department. Open Foris provides ideal tools for performing fast, accurate and cost-effective assessments. It is highly customizable for the specific data collection needs and methodologies

Open Foris tools have been applied in forest sector particularly in NFIs in more than 20 countries, including NFIs in Tanzania, Zambia, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Argentina. In addition, OF tools are used for example for socio-economic inventory in Mongolia and dairy industry survey in Kazakhstan.

The suite of software tools includes OF Collect, used to define the hierarchical structure of a survey and define the attributes to be collected and their parameters; OF Collect Mobile, a tablet-based tool that enables data entry directly in the field, thus significantly improving the quality of data collected; and OF Calc which supports data analysis and reporting under a variety of sampling design approaches. 

Collect Earth, part of Open Foris, is a tool that enables data collection through Google Earth software. The data gathered through Collect Earth is exportable to commonly used formats and can also be exported to Saiku, a tool that facilitates data analysis. In conjunction with Google Earth, Bing Maps and Google Earth Engine, users can analyse high and very-high resolution satellite imagery for a variety of purposes, including: 

  • supporting multi-phase NFIs, 
  • Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) assessments,
  • monitoring agricultural land and urban areas,
  • validation of existing maps,
  • collection of spatially explicit socio-economic data,
  • quantifying deforestation, reforestation and desertification.

Collect Earth Online developed by NASA-Servir in co-operation with FAO is the next generation of web-based, crowd-sourcing technology for Earth Science analyses. It allows users to collect reference data using high-resolution satellite images and big-data analysis through Google Earth Engine. Multiple users can simultaneously collect information.

Other tools in the area of forest monitoring and reporting include the System for Earth Observation Data Access, Processing and Analysis for Land Monitoring (SEPAL), which FAO has developed with funding from Norway. The cloud-based SEPAL computing platform facilitates countries’ access to Earth observation data as well as processing of that data. SEPAL allows users to query and process satellite data quickly and efficiently, tailor their products for local needs, and produce sophisticated and relevant geospatial analyses quickly. An easy-to use computing platform, SEPAL allows countries to overcome processing issues related to poor internet connections or low computing power on local computers.