Updated: Sep 18, 2020
Open Foris is an innovative, open-source software that helps countries measure, monitor and report on forests and land use, paving the way for improved climate change mitigation plans and more informed land-use policies. Accurate information is crucial for the sustainable management of natural resources. In collaboration with many countries and partners, FAO, with support from UN-REDD, NICFI, BMU-IKI, Finland and other donors, developed Open Foris to meet the urgent need for systems that enable accurate, yet cost-effective monitoring, reporting and verification of forest and other land cover.
Open Foris tools are helping more than 30,000 people across 180 countries collect, analyse and report forest data. The tools make the processes of data collection, analysis and reporting more accessible, accurate and transparent, catalysing progress for REDD+ reporting and laying the groundwork for the transition to the Enhanced Transparency Framework in the coming years. By making data collection, analysis and reporting easier, people and governments can measure, report, plan, make policy and verify policy impacts more effectively.
With support from the UN-REDD Programme, Open Foris has been instrumental in supporting 45 countries in development of transparent, reliable, relevant, accessible and sustainable National Forest Monitoring Systems. Open Foris tools and platforms have been used for data provision to 70% of the 50 REDD+ Forest Reference Levels submitted to the UNFCCC. These 50 countries represent 75% of global deforestation, according to FAO’s 2020 Global Forest Resources Assessment.
Forest inventory is sometimes physically challenging — here foresters of the Forest Department of Myanmar take measurements on a steep slope having made their way through thick vegetation in a bamboo forest. Having a quick and easy way to input and save your data is very valuable in the field — furnished by Collect Mobile and supported by the other Open Foris tools. (@Marco Piazza FAO)
The Open Foris suite is made up of 6 software tools and platforms:
Collect provides a fast and easy way to set up a survey with a user-friendly interface. It acts as the main entry point for setting up a field inventory for survey design and data management. Survey design is highly configurable with multiple data types and languages possible; data entry is fast; and, the software allows multiple users to collaborate on surveys and datasets. By setting validation rules, Collect is able to provide data validation reports and helps users to avoid inputting errors.
Once the survey is set up in Collect, it’s time to go to the field to collect data, and Collect Mobile makes this easier than ever. Collect Mobile is an app that can be installed on any Android device. It enables fast and easy data input with instant error-warnings to help avoid error and automated geolocation with GPS receiver. One particularly useful feature is the user-defined species lists, helping avoid misnomers and potential confusion with synonymous names, keeping data that is reflective of the latest in taxonomy. Importantly, the app does not require an internet connection, a benefit given that environmental surveys, such as forest inventories, are often carried out in remote areas. This makes for data entry that is smooth and easy without the need for paper forms which could potentially be lost or damaged and are prone to human error. Collect Mobile also removes the old need to transcribe from paper forms to a database when back from the field (another source of potential error). With Collect Mobile, this step is completed within a matter of seconds. Although developed initially for the collection of field data for National Forest Inventory, Collect Mobile can be used for any other goal and is currently part of many socio-economic data collection projects.
Once you have your data recorded, you want to analyse and create reports, and Calc makes this step possible. Drawing upon one of the main tools of data scientists – with help of R programming – Calc enables users to analyse and visualize complex datasets by way of a user friendly interface to produce result graphics and tables in a transparent, verifiable manner.
During a training on Open Foris Calc in Lima, Peru participants manipulate and visualise large datasets easily, and obtain results such as those shown projected. Such results enable modelling and assessment of biomass and carbon change across a landscape, essential for protecting ecosystems and mitigating climate change. (@ Open Foris)
Collect Earth is an innovative land assessment and monitoring tool through freely available satellite imagery, using high resolution satellite imagery. Collect Earth works in conjunction with Google Earth, Bing Maps, Google Earth Engine and other sources of high-resolution imagery like Planet and MaxarSecureWatch. Collect Earth provides a user-friendly environment for the collection and analysis of sampled spatial data, enabling users to classify and monitor changes easily by applying customizable forms tailored to country circumstances, as well as international guidelines, such as that of the IPCC. It has been used by countries to produce data for UNFCCC reporting and has been instrumental in FAO’s Global Drylands Assessment and the monitoring of Africa’s Great Green Wall. Collect Earth maintenance and development is funded by BMU-IKI.
Participants pose for a photo after a training in Dakar, Senegal on using Collect Earth to assess drylands. Senegal has planted over 11 million trees since 2007, as part of the Great Green Wall, the pan-African effort to limit desertification.
(@ Open Foris)
Collect Earth Online
Developed in collaboration with NASA’s SERVIR program, Collect Earth Online provides a functionality that changes how we collect data – it enables crowd-sourcing for visual interpretation of satellite images. This means that scientists and citizens can collaborate in real time on interpreting images in land cover, which makes for powerful and fast analyses.
SEPAL provides anyone, anywhere with unparalleled access to satellite data and supercomputing power from a web browser or mobile phone. SEPAL enables users to process and analyse huge datasets to detect and monitor changes in land use and land cover, at any scale, leveraging Google Earth Engine and cloud-based super computers, through an easy to use interface. SEPAL is being used for land monitoring and change detection, including for deforestation, forest degradation, forest fire, monitoring of peatlands, agricultural land and refugee camps. SEPAL enabled spatial data generation for REDD+ reporting for the Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Bhutan, Liberia, Equatorial Guinea, Myanmar, Laos, Ecuador, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Thailand and Nigeria. SEPAL has also enabled the measurement and reporting of degradation in Uganda, Equatorial Guinea and Ethiopia. SEPAL maintenance and development is funded by NICFI.
Using SEPAL, land cover change has been detected in Uganda. Here, deforestation in red and forest degradation in yellow are shown eating away at a forest over the period 2018–2019. This type of analysis, which can show change almost from one day to another and with a resolution in metres, can enable a near-real time understanding of change dynamics and drivers, and rapid and targeted response of the people managing forests.
All Open Foris tools are fully integrated. Data and analyses carried out with one tool can be swapped across to others, maximising utility. As of September 2020, Open Foris tools:
have over 30,000 users from 180 countries;
have been used in 25 National Forest Inventories and in 70% of the 60 REDD+ submissions to the UNFCCC;
are being used to monitor restoration – with the tools used to estimate global tree restoration potential in an influential paper in Science in 2019 and in the Global Drylands Assessment and the monitoring of Africa’s Great Green Wall – and will contribute to efforts to monitor the upcoming UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration;
Open Foris tools and platforms are free and open-source with manuals, video tutorials and user support forums available to ensure that using Open Foris is adaptable and sustainable. In 2020, two new tools will be added to the suite: Earth Map and Open Foris Arena. Earth Map, developed in partnership with Google Earth Outreach with funding from IKI-BMU, allows anyone, through a simple drop-down menu interface, to examine local climate data and other variables, such as vegetation changes anywhere in the world. Arena, developed with funding from UN-REDD, will streamline and improve data collection and analysis in an integrated environment (combining Collect and Calc tools). Arena will operate in the cloud and will also offer templates and new features designed to make using Open Foris tools easier than ever.
These open source solutions are catalysing significant progress in land monitoring around the globe by lowering costs, removing technical barriers, empowering collaboration and enhancing the transparency and accuracy of forest and land cover information which is fundamental to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.
National Forest Monitoring Team Leader
International Forest and Biodiversity Expert
NDS Land-use Reporting Specialist