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News, 6/13/2017

Finnish method used in forest inventories in dozens of countries

Finland has focused on cooperation with the UN and is among top experts specialising in tropical forests.  A recently completed pilot project led to a global monitoring program for measuring carbon sinks.

“In Finland, national forest inventories (NFIs) have been conducted longer than anywhere else, starting about a hundred years ago. More than ten time series have been made in Finland so far,” says Vesa Kaarakka, Senior Adviser (forests) in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, listing factors that have made Finland a sought-after partner in the forest sector in the developing countries.

Forests were there first – then came technological expertise and geospatial data. These were soon united, and Finland was in the possession of the very combination of methods that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) needed to support the developing countries measure carbon sinks in compliance with the provisions of the Paris Agreement.

Peru is one of the first countries where Finland has supported forest inventories. Photo: FAO/Anssi Pekkarinen
Peru is one of the first countries where Finland has supported forest inventories. Photo: FAO/Anssi Pekkarinen

FAO and Finland launched a joint pilot project in five countries, Tanzania, Ecuador, Zambia, Peru and Vietnam in 2009. In three of them, a national forest inventory was conducted for the first time in their history. The inventory carried out in Tanzania was the most comprehensive made in any developing country.  This spring, FAO reported that Zambia, the last of the project countries, had also completed the project, calling the results ground-breaking.

The pilot countries now have methods and tools at their disposal for cost-effective monitoring of the state of their forests and the amounts of carbon and biomass contained in them. Accurate forest data is useful for both the international community and developing countries managing their own forests.

“Later on, these countries can get financial compensations through the international climate change mechanisms, which would not be possible without a well-functioning monitoring and reporting system,” Kaarakka says.

“In addition, socioeconomic data has been collected to provide information about importance of forests, the use of different tree species and their use as a source of income.  This helps the countries to plan how to utilise their forests as a means to promote economic growth.

Openness as a precondition

In many tropical countries, deforestation is proceeding at an alarming rate. In Myanmar, for instance, the rate of forest depletion is the third highest in the world. Finland is just starting the next National Forest Inventory (NFI) and National Forest Monitoring Information System (NFMIS) project, to be fully launched in the course of 2017.

The results of the earlier pilot project will be used in Myanmar, such as the Open Foris software package for forestry management, which was developed in the course of the piloting. Open Foris contains tools for collecting data on forest cover as well as for the processing, analysis and reporting of the accumulated material.

Forest resources data helps Tanzanian authorities in their decision-making. Photo: FAO/Anssi Pekkarinen.
Forest resources data helps Tanzanian authorities in their decision-making. Photo: FAO/Anssi Pekkarinen.

“Developing the methodology was an important component of the cooperation between FAO and Finland also in terms of the global playing field. Today, Open Foris is in use in one way or other in over 50 countries,” Kaarakka tells.

It was also important that the use of the software is based on a free open-source code – this is why its name includes the word “Open”.   Knowledge is power, and individual actors may also have selfish interests related to the management of data obtained from forest inventories.

“Our funding has always been based on the condition that all material and data will be available to all those who need it from the global level to the national decision-makers and grassroots level. This is where Finland has succeeded well.”

Research institutes’ support is important

A comprehensive network of Finnish experts are involved in the inventory projects.  The Natural Resources Institute Finland, LUKE, for instance, has made its expertise available for the development programmes for a long time. In Myanmar, training in the subject matter is supported also by the University of Helsinki, which is engaged in regional cooperation between higher education institutions (HEIs).

Finnish experts representing the private sector have also been involved in these projects from time to time. For example, Arbonaut, a Finnish company from the city of Joensuu, has participated in the development of a mobile data collection tool that has been used in FAO’s projects. Reaktor, a creative technology business, is developing a novel solution for the collection global forest resource statistics. Finnish names are seen in the UN, too: Anssi Pekkarinen, who previously worked as Researcher at the Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla), is leading FAO’s global forest inventory and monitoring programme.

In 2009–2017, Finland supported the pilot programme implemented in the five countries mentioned above by EUR 15.25 billion; for the forest inventory in Myanmar in 2017–2021, EUR 9.5 million has been earmarked. However, more important than the euros are the experience, international network and know-how that have been built up over the years.

“It can certainly be said that in this sector Finland punches well above its weight. You could even say Finland is a ‘superpower’ when it comes to forest inventories,” says Kaarakka.

Eija Palosuo

The author works as Communications Officer in the Department of Communications of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

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