“You can’t organize and manage what you don’t know,” says environmental campaigner Leonidas Nzigyemba.
“To improve the situation of forests, we need to use new technology,” he adds.
Leonidas Nzigyemba is the chief supervisor of five protected forest areas in Burundi, the small country in central Africa.
Over the past two decades, he and his team have worked with local communities to protect and manage forests, and Nzijiemba’s face lights up when he describes the fresh scent and beauty of the regions. “It’s pure nature,” he says.
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Nzjiemba has to consider a range of factors in his work, including monitoring the impact of human activities and economies, tracking biodiversity and the impact of climate change, as well as staff numbers and budgets.
To help him track and record it all, he now uses the latest version of a free program called Integrated Management Effectiveness Technology.
The technology was developed specifically for such environmental work through a project called Biopama (Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Programme). The program is supported by the European Union and the 79 member countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Organization.
“We use this type of technology to train site administrators to use it to collect good data, and analyze that data, to make good decisions,” says Nzigyemba.
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Locating and protecting the world’s forests is not only important to the communities and economies most directly affected, as deforestation and forest loss contribute to climate change, so conserving forests can help address climate damage.
According to the United Nations, the world is losing about 10 million hectares (25 million acres) of its forests every year.
This deforestation is responsible for 20 percent of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions, according to the World Wildlife Fund, which adds that “by reducing forest loss, we can reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.”
In an effort to restore forests and other natural habitats around the world, the United Nations launched the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration last year. This has led countries, companies and other organizations to pledge action to prevent, stop and reverse the degradation of ecosystems around the world.
“Just saying we will restore forests is not enough,” says Yelena Fenigol, Forestry Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). “There is a need for responsible planning of how the ecosystem restoration mechanism will work, followed by practical actions taken on the ground made possible by investments in ecosystem restoration, and the monitoring systems in place to track its restoration. to trace.”
This increased focus on forests has led to the emergence of new digital tools to collect, sort and better use data.
One such website is the FAO Ferm Ecosystem Monitoring Framework. Launched last year, the site uses satellite imagery to highlight changes in forests around the world. The maps and data can be accessed by any of the Internet users, be it scientists, government officials, businessmen or private people.
Ferm’s primary data source is NASA, a system for investigating global ecosystem dynamics. Known simply as Gedi, this abbreviation is pronounced like the word Jedi, which belongs to a character from the Star Wars series. As a kind of tribute to this film series, his slogan is “May the forest be with you”, similar to the famous phrase used in all parts of this series, “May the ability be with you.”
In fact, the technology itself appears to be science fiction turned reality. “We’re shooting lasers at trees from the International Space Station,” said Laura Duncanson, who helps lead the Jaday project from the University of Maryland’s Department of Geographic Sciences.
Dr Duncanson, a leading expert in remote sensing, adds: “We use reflected energy to 3D map forests, including their height, canopy density and carbon content…This is an exciting new technology because we have been able to map forests for decades to monitor declines from space, but now with Jaday we can more accurately determine the carbon emissions associated with forest loss.”
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Maps and data are also provided to Ferm by Norway’s Business Planet Labs, which operates more than 200 camera satellites. These satellites take about 350 million images of the Earth’s surface every day, each covering an area of one square kilometer.
Planet Labs can also be used directly by governments and companies around the world. In addition to monitoring forests, its cameras can be used to monitor everything from drought to agricultural, energy and infrastructure projects, as well as to monitor key infrastructure, such as ports.
All the available images from space have “dramatically changed how we monitor forests, because they have provided us with highly reproducible views of places,” said Remi D’Annunzio, a forestry officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“In fact, with all these publicly available satellites combined, we can get a complete picture of the Earth every four to five days.”
An example of how all this near-real-time monitoring is being used by Ferm is pilot schemes in Vietnam and Laos that are trying to tackle the problem of illegal logging. Alerts are sent to rangers and volunteer social service workers on their mobile phones when new forests are detected.
“What we are trying to do now is not only to understand how much forest is being lost, but also where specifically it is being lost in this or that area, so that we can monitor the loss, so that we can prevent the situation from worsening, ” says FAO Forestry Officer, Akiko Inoguchi. almost instantaneously.