FAO and Norway to help developing countries monitor forest resources

Norway and FAO have signed a NOK 35m (around $4.5m) partnership agreement to improve the capacity of developing countries to monitor and report on their forest resources and changes in forest area. The project will facilitate countries’ access to earth observation data sources, including satellite imagery, and develop an easy-to-use platform for processing and interpreting this data.

“The new platform offers countries a set of efficient tools for monitoring changes in their forest area and carbon stocks, and for developing sustainable forest management regimes”, said Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Assistant Director-General of FAO’s Forestry Department.

Efficient tools for everyone

Gaining access to satellite imagery can be difficult for users with poor internet connections, posing a serious challenge for natural resource managers in developing countries. Additionally, old, outdated computers process large-scale data very slowly. FAO’s new software aims to overcome these problems by avoiding the need to download images locally and by using a scalable, “cloud-based” supercomputer instead. All downloading and processing takes place elsewhere, in locations where connections are good and large amounts of computing power is available.

“One of the important components here is the creation of a user-friendly and efficient, cloud-based computing interface”, explains Tiina Vähänen, Deputy Director of FAO’s Forest Assessment, Management and Conservation Division. “The use of this interface will allow quick access to remote sensing data as well as to high-performance computing facilities, even in countries with limited access to internet.”

Vähänen also stressed that many users in developing countries had limited resources to buy licenses of proprietary software. “They often simply do not have access to the tools they need. Open source software which was developed under the FAO’s Open Foris Initiative and used in this project is available for everyone without license costs and allows the end user to modify the program to suit their purposes”, she added.

Tracking changes in forest carbon emissions

At the initial stage FAO will start implementing the new system in 13 countries over the next 3 years in support of activities under the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD).  The system will be mainly used by forestry technicians to monitor and assess how much carbon forest areas stock, enabling countries to report on and receive compensation for verified emission reductions. 

“Satellite imagery and other earth observation data are important for countries working to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation”, said Lars Andreas Lunde, State Secretary in the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment. “Improved forest monitoring systems enable better informed decision making and policy development, and enable tracking of performance in reducing forest based emissions. This is why Norway is supporting this project through its International Climate and Forest Initiative.”

“The outcome we are looking for here is to help countries produce and access satellite-generated forest maps and related information products in an easier, faster and more sustainable way. This will allow them to gather better information for their own needs and for REDD+ implementation,” added Vähänen.

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