Ready to measure: Myanmar is designing and planning its new National Forest Inventory (NFI)

Tropical mixed evergreen and deciduous forest with teak and ironwood in the Bago region (Thayarwaddy district). The first-ever tropical forest inventories were carried out in these forests back in the 1850s, during British colonial times as part of newly introduced forest conservation policies.

Myanmar has one of the highest proportions of forest cover in mainland Southeast Asia. According to the Global Forest Resources Assessment, published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2015, 44.2% of the country’s territory is covered with forests. A considerable amount of these forests is still relatively intact, hosting exceptional biodiversity, including fishing cats, sun bears, dholes, binturongs, pangolins and more than 1,000 bird species. Moreover, an estimated 70% of the country’s population is living in rural areas and heavily dependent on forests for their basic needs.

To protect the country’s natural wealth, while also fulfilling various national and international commitments such as its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Myanmar is taking steps to implement REDD+ actions. With the support of the UN-REDD Programme, the government of Myanmar has been implementing the Myanmar UN-REDD National Programme since 2016. Under the programme, FAO has been supporting the government of Myanmar in the improvement of the country’s National Forest Monitoring System (NFMS) and the implementation of a National Forest Inventory (NFI).

Myanmar has a long tradition of carrying out forest Inventories and is among the first countries in the world that had historically established, sample-based, large-area forest inventories with strip sampling in teak forests during the 1850s. The first attempt at a national-scale forest inventory began in 1980 - 81 and ended in 1992. However, this National Forest Inventory was never completed. Since then, the country has developed forest inventories only for forest management units at the scale of forest districts or compartments where harvesting operations would take place.

To reactivate multi-purpose national-level forest monitoring activities for multiple purposes, while at the same time enhancing relevant skills and capacities, the Forest Department under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC) has developed and endorsed the National Forest Monitoring Action Plan (NFMS-AP). This plan has become the basis for developing and upgrading the existing large-area forest inventory and monitoring capacities in the country. Actions for the improvement of reporting and measuring capacities for REDD+, as well as for efficient forest, climate change and environmental policy planning and evaluation, are included in this plan.

During 2017 and 2018, following a series of multi-stakeholder workshops, focus group meetings and technical consultations with national and international experts, including the Finnish Natural Resources Institute (Luke), a new design was developed for the NFI, together with efficient and feasible approaches and methodologies for data collection and analysis. During the first quarter of 2019, the new methodologies were tested in the field in different regions of the country. Training on field methodology was organized for 7 field crews at Bago Yoma Eco-resort in February, 2019.

Myanmar interviews from the NFI workshop: Progress in Designing and Planning of a National Forest Inventory in Myanmar

The field testing included landscapes with four different forest types (evergreen forests, mixed evergreen and deciduous forests, dry forests and sub-tropical hill forests). The results of the field testing largely met expectations in terms of practicality, time and costs. They will form the basis for further testing during the upcoming field season in 2020 and the start of the NFI in the areas with mangroves, a forest type which is particularly tricky to measure.

Field crew after finishing data collection with the new NFI field methodology in a cluster of a reserve forest area in Pyin Oo Lwin district, Mandalay region (field crew standing in an open area under shifting cultivation).

Presently, the planning of the NFI field data collection for the Tanintharyi region in Southern Myanmar is underway, along with consultations with the regional government, local and regional NGOs/CSOs, as well as with local ethnic groups and indigenous peoples organizations. The NFI team of the Forest Department, with support from the FAO/UN-REDD project team and local forest department staff, carried out several meetings and consultations in Dawei between in November, 2019.

Meeting with the head of the Forest Department of the Karen National Union (KNU), Mr Pdoh Saw Ehna, and one of his collaborators at the regional office for the Tanintharyi region of the Myanmar Forest Department to discuss NFI activities in ethnic Karen areas. Dawei, 18/11/ 2019.

Among the organizations consulted were the Forest Department of the Karen National Union (KNU), Tarkapaw Youth Group, Tanintharyi River Indigenous Peoples Network (TRIP-Net), Parchaung River Conservation Association, the Green Network, the Dawei Research Association, as well as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), World Conservation Society (WCS) and others. The objective of the meetings were to explain the NFI approach and purposes to stakeholders, discuss the geographical locations of field plots for field measurements, identify training and capacity building needs and ways of incorporating local actors in the NFI work scheduled to start in January, 2020.

Crucial for planning and implementing the NFI in Myanmar has been the use of open-source forest monitoring tools, hosted and developed by FAO. Since 2015, technical personnel of the Forest Department of Myanmar have been successively trained in using software tools of the Open Foris suite to master the challenges of the different stages of NFI planning, from designing surveys in Open Foris Collect, developing paperless data collection forms with the Collect Mobile app, using Collect Earth and Collect Earth Online for pre-assessment of land classes, land types and accessibility of candidate NFI plots and developing data analysis/data processing chains for the NFI data with Calc and other open-source software (R, PostgreSQL). The land monitoring tools, Collect Earth and Collect Earth Online, work with freely available satellite imaginary that greatly facilitates work on land assessment and mapping as required for REDD+ reporting and other purposes.

The results of the NFI will play an important role in supporting national and large-area, subnational-level decision-making in forest conservation and sustainable management. They will also fulfill national and international reporting commitments, especially for Greenhouse Gas Inventories and REDD+, but also for other climate change, forest and land-use related policy initiatives. The new NFI will allow the country to obtain up-to-date, reliable, transparent and accessible information about the state of the forests and generates the data necessary for evidence-based planning for sustainable management and conservation.

Useful links:

REDD+ Myanmar website

Myanmar and the UN-REDD Programme

FAO’s work on NFMS

For further information, please contact:

Dr Myat Su Mon

Deputy Director, Planning and Statistics Division

Forest Department, Myanmar

Mr Franz Arnold

Forestry Officer,

UN-REDD Programme Myanmar

Mr Khine Zaw Wynn

National Consultant, NFI

UN-REDD Programme Myanmar

Ms Thinn Thitsar Kyaw

Programme Specialist,

FAO country office, Myanmar

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