Further investments needed to improve national forest monitoring capacities of tropical countries

Published on
September 10, 2015

This week the official launch of the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) 2015 data took place at the World Forestry Congress in Durban. Every 5 years, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) releases the FRA with the aim to provide a consistent approach to describing the world’s forests and how they are changing. This year’s release was accompanied by a special journal volume of Forest Ecology and Management which served as the primary analytical venue for FRA 2015.

Erika Romijn and Martin Herold from the Laboratory of Geo-Information Science and Remote Sensing at Wageningen University contributed to this volume by performing a study on assessing change in national forest monitoring capacities of 99 tropical countries. Their article gives an overview of the current national forest monitoring and reporting capacities and recent changes for the years 2005-2010-2015 in 99 tropical countries, using the FAO FRA data as a basis.

More than 50 authors contributed to the 13 peer-reviewed journal papers, ensuring broad international authorship. All papers in the special issue utilized as a primary data source the results from the FRA 2015 country reports, external data sources and remote sensing inputs provided through the FRA. “Especially in the tropics where forests are declining at a rapid rate, national forest monitoring systems capable of reliably estimating forest cover, forest cover change and carbon stock change are of vital importance,” Erika Romijn says. “As a large number of tropical countries had limited capacity in the past to implement such a system, capacity building efforts have been ongoing to strengthen the technical and political skillsets necessary to implement national forest monitoring at institutional levels.”

The study shows that countries’ capacities to monitor forest area and area changes with use of remote sensing data improved considerably between 2005 and 2015 and now a larger area is monitored with good to very good capacities. This effect is related to more free and open remote sensing data and availability of techniques to improve forest area change monitoring. Countries’ capabilities to perform forest inventories also increased significantly. Carbon pool reporting still needs to be improved with greater emphasis on producing accurate emission factors at Tier 2 or Tier 3 level.

Erika Romijn: “Our results emphasize important progress and level effectiveness of capacity building programmes such as those by FAO and REDD+ readiness. But they also emphasize the need for continued capacity development efforts. These will further improve accuracy and reliability of data and information on forest resources which is needed to refine policies and decisions and to further improve forest management and reduce forest loss in tropical countries.”

Romijn, J.E., Lantican, C.B., Herold, M., Lindquist, E., Ochieng, R., Wijaya, A., Murdiyarso, D., Verchot, L., 2015. Assessing change in national forest monitoring capacities of 99 tropical countries. Forest Ecology and Management, 352 (Special Issue: Changes in Global Forest Resources from 1990 to 2015), pp.109-123.