Simple Tools Rival High-Tech Devices

Local communities using tools like ropes and sticks produce forest carbon data on par with professional foresters

Science Daily reported yesterday that a recent study by researchers at the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and European and Southeast Asian institutions finds that local communities—using simple tools like ropes and sticks—can produce forest carbon data on par with results by professional foresters using high-tech devices.

The study additionally found that nearly half of official REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) projects, which pivot on the accurate measurement of carbon trapped in forests, do not engage communities in this data gathering, despite assertions by the United Nations that these projects must ensure communities’ “full and effective participation.” The authors of the paper—the first-ever quantitative study of REDD+ community participation—argue that locally-gathered data is not only accurate but also more legitimate and cost-effective in the long run. It also improves trust in REDD+ among local communities.

The study—Community Monitoring for REDD+: International Promises and Field Realities—was authored by 22 scientists and was based on a study conducted in Southeast Asia's most complex, carbon-rich forests: lowland forest in Indonesia, mountain rain forest in China and monsoon forest in Laos and Vietnam. It was published in a special issue of the journal Ecology and Society. The study is part of the EU-funded project Impacts of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and Enhancing Carbon Stocks (I-REDD+).

To determine if communities can provide accurate monitoring of above-ground forest-carbon stocks, researchers trained community members in simple measuring tactics and sent them to 289 pre-selected forest plots to measure the number of trees, tree girth and biomass per hectare. Researchers then compared their measurements to those gathered by professional foresters using handheld computers.

The results showed strikingly similar results between community members and professional foresters across countries and forest types. This corroborates a small but growing body of research suggesting that, when armed with the simplest of techniques and equipment, community members with limited education can accurately monitor forest biomass—previously thought to be the domain of highly-trained professionals. The authors also state that data gathered by communities meet the high standards of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC).

For more information, please see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131028205412.htm.

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