As countries strive to meet international reporting requirements to develop more robust National Forest Monitoring Systems, including reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), the importance of National Forest Inventories (NFIs) cannot be underestimated. This systematic collection, analysis and reporting of forest data, plays a pivotal role in providing estimates on relevant variables about characteristics of forests and forested landscapes for a whole country or a subnational administrative or geographic entity, including emission factors for calculating forest-related greenhouse gas emissions and removals. Beyond their carbon-focused function, NFIs provide vital insights into forest biodiversity, health, management, and use, empowering countries to make informed decisions on national policy and management.
Recognizing the complexity of NFIs, and in their role of enhancing capacities in this field, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has renewed its NFI e-learning series. The original course, developed by the FAO's National Forest Monitoring (NFM) Team in conjunction with Gottingen University and in collaboration with the FAO’s elearning Academy in 2021, has undergone a comprehensive transformation to enhance accessibility, depth, and overall user experience. As the overall series coordinator, Rebecca Tavani, puts it, "This version of the series is clearer thanks to student-led peer-review and more comprehensive than the previous version. It guides the user though each phase of the NFI process and seamlessly connects the dots."
The new NFI e-learning series comprises eight courses, each delving into the respective phases of the NFI process. From the foundational "Why an NFI?" to the conclusive "NFI results: reporting and dissemination," the series provides a holistic understanding of the process involved in carrying out an NFI. The series’ Instructional Designer, Reshma Sanyal, from the FAO elearning Academy, highlighted the collaborative nature of this revamped series, "The new version of the NFI courses blends multiple perspectives into a single solution." This collaboration involved both forestry professionals and esteemed academics from Gottingen University, including Dr. Lutz Fehrmann and Dr. Christoph Kleinn, both long-standing collaborators with FAO. Their contributions ensure a balance of practical insights and academic rigor while complementing FAO's expertise on NFIs.
The revamped series stands out for its technical depth, offering a comprehensive exploration of FAO's Voluntary Guidelines on National Forest Monitoring. This is a result of extensive collaboration, including peer reviews by forestry students from Gottingen University master programs, who served as a peer reviewers for the courses' relevance and usability.
Javier Garcia Perez, an FAO NFI Analyst, played a critical role in providing a peer review, ensuring meticulous attention to detail. Rebecca Tavani, emphasized the collaborative effort, stating, "It was a co-authored initiative between FAO national forest monitoring colleagues and academics from Gottingen who have a deep appreciation for practical forest inventory guidance, making it as hands-on as possible." This emphasis on practical relevance is further enriched by the inclusion of supportive materials, field case studies, as well as videos, including many provided by Gottingen professors.
With a duration totaling over 10 hours, the self-paced series can be undertaken as a whole or as individual courses, providing flexibility to learners based on their time and interests. The inclusion of exercises, links to additional resources, and instructive videos ensures a dynamic and engaging learning experience and brings real-world examples to learners.
One of the remarkable additions to this revamped series is the introduction of digital badge certification. Upon successful completion of a final test covering all courses, learners receive a digital badge certificate. This feature allows individuals to validate their expertise in specific phases of the NFI process without following a precise sequence.
"The result is a curriculum that will interest students studying forestry as well as professionals looking to enhance their skills and expertise. It will also be beneficial to those who simply want to broaden their knowledge in this area," Reshma stated.
Looking ahead, Rebecca Tavani shared the future vision for the course. "We are thinking about a post-forum to gather ideas from the field and make this course even more centered on countries’ needs. Our goal is to bring people as close to the field as possible within an e-learning modality." This future-oriented approach aligns with the FAO's commitment to continuous improvement and relevance in the ever-evolving field of forestry and environmental monitoring.
As a testament to the course's impact, content from the modules has been integrated into other FAO capacity development initiatives, such as the “Global Transformation of Forests for People and Climate: a focus on West Africa” SIDA project workshops, further extending the reach and applicability of the knowledge imparted.
The series were developed with the financial support of the project "Building global capacity to increase transparency in the forestry sector (CBIT-Forest)", funded by the Trust Fund of the Capacity Building Initiative for Transparency (CBIT) of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
Looking ahead to the next phase, FAO plans to translate the course into French and Spanish, making it accessible to a broader audience. Additionally, each course will be made available for download course text version, ensuring its reach extends even to areas with limited internet access.
FAO's revamped NFI e-learning series represents a significant leap forward in providing inclusive, comprehensive, and user-friendly education on National Forest Inventories ultimately improving decision and policy making related to various forestry-positive climate and development actions, including REDD+ efforts.
Vanessa Vértiz Knowledge Management Consultant, Forestry Division, FAO
Rocío Cóndor-Golec Forestry Officer, Forestry Division, FAO
Rebecca Tavani Forestry Officer, Forestry Division, FAO
Photo credit: FAO/ Jonathan Wesley Roberts. Technicians participated in demonstrations on using the Open Foris Collect Mobile tool, forest inventory equipment, and GPS device for sample unit location, sample plot establishment, and data collection techniques.