Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change. Decision makers require reliable data as a first step towards taking effective action to minimize these impacts. The role of the forest sector in such efforts and the availability of comprehensive forest data is a critical factor for planning actions to both mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Since 2011, Bangladesh has been preparing to engage in a mechanism to reduce deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) under the UNFCCC. These readiness efforts include development of a satellite-based forest monitoring system, a forest reference emission level (FREL), and a national REDD+ strategy. The REDD+ readiness process builds on the existing knowledge and information and its collection, harmonization and digitization so that this information is available for policy development and planning.
But how has data collection and management improved over this period? In the past, most of the data and information was scattered across different forest administrative offices under the Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD) under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC). They were stored as hard copy reports, tables, documents, or in soft copy in various formats. Not surprisingly, this information was rarely taken into account for management planning. With support from the Bangladesh UN-REDD National Programme and the Bangladesh Forest Inventory Project, BFD has accumulated and digitized data from its head office, field offices and from other stakeholders. Previous initiatives developed information systems including MIST for the Sundarbans and the ten modules of the Forest Management Information System (FMIS), but these were not connected, and usually ceased operation shortly after completion of support projects. This was due to the lack of availability of IT professionals and other skilled personnel for the coordination and management of information systems in BFD.
Learning from these previous initiatives, BFD took an important step towards the sustainable management and maintenance of information systems by signing a Service Level Agreement with the Bangladesh Computer Council. Trainings were held to enhance the capacities of officials to develop and manage databases related to forest cover assessment, that, as a result, improved forest inventory data collection, processing and analysis, helped the country to compile data from different formats, and to archive it for future use and planning.
This initiative was especially useful from the perspective of the country’s REDD+ readiness process. A comprehensive Bangladesh Forest Information System (BFIS) was launched in December 2018 by the BFD to assess, monitor, document, plan and implement forest management and conservation activities in the country. BFIS gathers forestry sector databases and reports, geospatial databases, inventory data, forest administrative data and other databases for supporting the development of the country’s FREL and REDD+ strategy.
This information had never before been available on the same platform. The initial design of the BFIS included twenty different information modules. The “BFIS Geoportal” module provides accurate spatial information on forest cover and identifies locations requiring management interventions. This portal was designed to support the monitoring of deforestation and planning the enhancement of forest cover through assisted natural regeneration, plantation and site-specific forest management and conservation. The “BFIS Land Record” module provides data on the legal status of forest land, required to facilitate management decisions. The “Forest Emission Factor database” module is included in BFIS to support the preparation of reliable greenhouse gas (GHG) estimates for REDD+ activities and the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector in the country. It contains the full list of tree species relevant for the national forest sector; a compilation of more than 700 Allometric Equations and raw data for these species; as well as around 197 Wood Density values and nearly 1000 Emission Factors. To be transparent all the metadata and reports are archived in the “BFIS eLibrary” and available for download. The “Bangladesh Forest Inventory (BFI) Data” module contains the forest inventory data and reports for future monitoring.
A key role of the BFIS is to support research and dissemination of consistent and reliable data to forestry sector stakeholders as well as for national and international reporting. It is a big step forward, as it allows stakeholders and decision makers, for the first time, to access and update information on forest area and status for all parts of the country under the jurisdiction of forest administrations. Furthermore, it allows national stakeholders to monitor the impacts of activities related to the achievement of various national targets, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to the forest and land sector, the country’s 7th Five Year Plan, the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP), the Country Investment Plan (CIP), and the Bangladesh Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). In future, BFIS will facilitate the updating of the country’s GHG emission and removals from the forest sector.
BFIS has the potential to become a powerful tool for decision-makers. To fulfil this potential it is crucial that the databases are regularly updated. Key experts from the Resource Information Management System (RIMS) Unit of BFD will be actively involved with the process. BFD’s efforts to develop a pool of skilled manpower for database management builds on prior activities under projects with technical support from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and financial support from the UN-REDD Programme and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Collaboration and networking between the various stakeholders involved in forest management and conservation will also contribute to the sustainability of the system.
BFIS represents a great achievement towards better management and conservation of forest resources, by connecting people involved in the development and application of forest data. The system will support BFD in planning, implementation and monitoring of the multi-objective management actions through which the forestry sector can play a key role in meeting the challenges of climate change.