Forest information system brings greater openness in Vietnam
Finland is committed to supporting Vietnam’s efforts at improved management of its forest resources in the development cooperation framework. The Forest Management Information System (FORMIS) puts together and visualizes data and information for use by decision-makers, ordinary citizens and investors.
One half of the project is ICT, the other half is forestry. This is how Tapio Leppänen, chief project consultant describes his job in developing Vietnam’s forest information system.
Why, then, is it important to develop forest information systems?
Mr. Leppänen says that ultimately these systems are about the ability to source and share information in standardized format. The aim is to provide accurate and reliable data for informed decision-making at all levels.
Up until now, it has been necessary to create a new tailored system for each forest inventory, which means it has not been applicable to other inventories. The information is scattered around in different places: on paper, on computer hard drives, on memory sticks.
“REDD investors are one specific target group who need accurate information,” Leppänen explains. REDD+ is an international funding mechanism aimed at curbing deforestation through intensified forest conservation and the use of forests as carbon sinks in tropical countries.
Information on the origin of timber and timber products, then, is important for export industries, because under new legislation European and American importers are required to establish where the timber is sourced from. Vietnamese timber exports to the United States amount to four billion US dollars a year.
The forest information system also serves the goals of the FLEGT Action Plan, which is aimed at preventing illegal European imports of timber from tropical countries.
Easier, cheaper, faster
For the Vietnamese forest owner or forest user, the forest information system provides immediate service access. Information is no longer passed on slowly, on paper, from one office to the next, at constant risk of being lost.
“When a Vietnamese farmer living in a mountain village wants to improve his piece of forest land, he can now go to the local forestry office and fill in a plan. This information will at once be fed into the system. The authorities can immediately see from the database whether there is anything in the vicinity of this land that possibly conflicts with the plan,” Leppänen explains.
He says that the local feeding of data into the system contributes to improved quality assurance, since it means the whole chain can be ascertained from the system afterwards.
Furthermore, the local application of the information system guarantees that the database can be used even when network connections are down.
The information system gives greater transparency. In contrast to the current system, figures once reported can no longer be altered and adjusted.
“It’s good for decision-makers to get used to the idea of decision-making based on facts,” Leppänen says.
By way of an example, he mentions a Chinese company that wants to buy a piece of land from the government in order to build a rubber tree plantation. The local villagers know nothing about these plans, since the records in the existing system are updated just once a year. Once the land has been sold, it’s too late for them to do anything.
All the information fed into the electronic database is immediately available, and local residents have the chance to make themselves heard. Most of Vietnam’s forests are in the country’s mountain regions, where most residents are from underprivileged ethnic groups. The information system will contribute to improving their rights as well.
The forest information system makes democracy more transparent at the grassroots level, says Le Minh Tue, expert advisor for the FORMIS project.
“The power of visualization is immediately apparent. For the past 20 years data on forest issues have been gathered in report format, using the conventional methods of text and graphs. These data were transformed into a multi-user application, and we displayed this at a seminar in the form of map graphs. This prompted lively debate among the participants about the changes and the accuracy of information,” Leppänen continues.
Most of the work to develop the forest information system is undertaken in three provinces, but data are being gathered from across the country.
Finnish government support for the project in 2009–2016 amounts to 14.7 million euros.