Frequently asked questions
Why have you only verified 20 illegalities of the 40 reported?
The aim of this phase of the project is to test the robustness of the technology and of the system in the field. We determined that 20 instances of successful verification represented a sufficient testing of various components of the system. All data captured by the project is available for verification.
What have you tested exactly?
The beta phase of technical development of the system has included training communities to use the equipment in the field and to follow specific data capture protocols. It has also involved testing and achieving a 100% correspondence between data transmitted from the field with data received in the central database; establishing that primary field data can subsequently be verified in-situ using a pre-defined verification form and that, after verification, the database is updated with the verified information.
Why did you decide to test in Cameroon?
The system is designed to run by community members and therefore, in order not to incur unnecessary costs, the test country needed to be one where we are already active with a local partner with a background in forestry monitoring. At the time we were ready to implement beta field tests in 2014, we assessed that our partner Forêts et Développement Rural (FODER) in Cameroon was best placed to take this forward.
Who are FODER?
Forêts et Développement Rurale (FODER) is a non-profit environmental organisation established in 2002 and based in Cameroon. Located in Yaoundé, FODER works with forest communities in relation to monitoring of forest activities, corruption and governance. FODER is working towards a more just society in which natural resources are used as a basis for sustainable development.
Why have zero illegalities been dealt with by enforcement?
The real time system needs to establish its operability and efficacy before it is reasonable to expect enforcement agencies to integrate it their systems. Enforcement is central to the overall aim of the system, and we expect to work with relevant agencies on this over the next twelve months.
Is this system going to offer value for money?
The research, development and field testing of this system has cost £45,000 to get to this point. This has been funded in part by UKAID - the Department for International Development, along with individual supporters of the Rainforest Foundation UK. In terms of running costs, it will cost us £0.04 for a community member to send a real time report of illegal logging and it is anticipated that that cost will come down in future. By contrast, the cost of illegal logging to Congo Basin countries alone is estimated to run to hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
Other real time monitoring and alert systems are being developed. What is different about this?
As far as we are aware, there is no other real time monitoring system that works in areas where there is no mobile connectivity. Although mobile connectivity is spreading through tropical regions, there are still vast areas without a signal or where coverage is patchy. It is in many of these regions where illegalities occur, and where other systems would be inoperable.
Why can’t we just rely on satellite-based forest monitoring?
Satellite-based monitoring can be very important, but also has limitations. Not all forest areas are regularly covered by satellite monitoring; continuous cloud cover can prevent the taking of reliable images for long periods of time; image resolution is often not very high, meaning that removal of, for example, low numbers of important high-value trees might not be recognized as serious illegal logging; high resolution satellite images can be expensive and require intensive high-expertise analysis to interpret; satellite imagery does not provide qualitative information, such as on why trees are being removed, nor any details on other types of forest infractions that do not involved detectable forest infractions (such as mis-description of timber species type or failure to properly mark cut logs). RFUK hopes to work with other organisations such as World Resources Institute to explore the possibility of combining satellite based monitoring with community-based monitoring in order to complement each type of system.
What is being learned from previous attempts at ‘independent forest monitoring’ (IFM)? What makes you believe this approach will be an improvement?
IFM systems to assess legal compliance of official forest law enforcement systems have often been limited by the infrequent nature of field visits, the need to pre-arrange them, and a lengthy and heavily bureaucratic system to respond to detected infractions. It has been difficult to assess from these the quality of the enforcement mechanisms. They have been relatively expensive, relying on city-based expertise travelling long distances in order to reach areas where illegalities may or may not be occurring. They have mostly not yet involved people living in forest, though in many parts of the tropics, most forest areas are occupied to some extent. We believe that involving local people in forest monitoring can offer a cost-effective complement to official enforcement, with potentially much wider geographical coverage than is possible under current IFM systems. Through our mapping work, we have shown that indigenous and local communities are very capable of operating and adopting technology such as employed in the real-time monitoring system we have developed. There is still value in all approaches to monitoring, and an integrated approach to monitoring including local communities, high resolution satellite imagery, and independent third party monitoring and enforcement should be tested.
What will happen next?
Following on from the initial development of this system, we hope to develop an end-to-end system that includes data collection and transmission, verification and official enforcement. As noted above, this could possibly be integrated with other mechanisms for independent forest monitoring – in order to test how community-based systems can help improve forest law enforcement, reduce conflict relating to illegal logging and improve livelihoods for forest people.