Editorial: rooting ICTs in forest management

Theodore Roosevelt once said that ‘to exist as a nation, to prosper as a state and to live as people, we must have trees’. His words still reverberate more than half a century later, as the world struggles to manage its forests in a manner that is both sustainable and profitable. The main issue facing forestry policy makers today is uncontrolled deforestation, resulting in soil erosion, desertification, biodiversity loss and the ensuing socio-economic upheavals.

Sustainable forest management is of particular relevance to ACP countries because about half of all forests are located in tropical areas. The rate of forest clearance is increasing – in some countries due to the ever-growing need for farmland, and in others to forest fires started by illegal loggers to meet the demand for hardwood. In recognition of these problems, many developing countries are putting in place policies and plans to promote sustainable forest management. This issue of ICT Update reports on some recent initiatives in which ICTs have made significant contributions.

ICTs are being applied to two key areas of forest management – in mapping and monitoring of forest resources and environmental threats, and in raising awareness of the need for sustainable forestry practices. A prime example of the former is Firehawk, an electronic forest fire detection system that has replaced manned lookout towers in plantations in KwaZulu Natal. Jake Oosthuizen describes how the system has improved the early detection of fires, thus reducing the damage to the environment and the timber industry.

Deirdre Smith explains how the CARPE project is using satellite-derived maps of the Congo Basin to assist African policy makers in identifying which areas of the forest and plant or animal species are under threat from illegal logging, cultivation and other human activities. The maps could prove invaluable in the design of policies for sustainable forest resources management throughout Central Africa.

Susie Latham reports on the Trees for Tomorrow project in Jamaica, where the Forestry Department is using a GIS database to identify areas at risk, which are then set aside as protected national forest reserves. In addition, the project’s Forest Awareness Campaign aims to gain public support for the sustainable management of forests and watersheds through information centres, a website and educational videos.

Awareness raising is also the focus of the Traditional Tree Initiative, an effort to reacquaint Pacific islanders with local tree species. Craig Elevitch describes how the project is compiling a series of fact sheets on CD-ROM that will record the all but forgotten knowledge of the region’s native tree species and promote the re-adoption of traditional agroforestry systems.

Finally, Zandra Martinez explains how the Forest Stewardship Council is increasingly using ICTs to support its forest certification system, a labelling scheme to assure consumers that the wood products they buy come from sustainably managed forests.

The destruction of forests in ACP countries has direct impacts on the lives of people around the world – our collective future depends upon the state of forest resources. As the initiatives described in this issue clearly demonstrate, ICTs are playing an increasingly important role in ensuring the sustainable management of the world’s forests.

08 June 2004

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