The state of the world's forests 2022


5.5 Digital technologies accelerate access to data, information and markets

Increasing means exist for overcoming barriers to digital engagement

Government services and other tools are increasingly moving online; this is a general trend driven by technology and economies of scale. Smallholders, local communities and Indigenous Peoples are benefiting from the increased availability of digital tools such as smartphone apps and remote sensing, which improve access to information (e.g. forest monitoring, e-learning, weather forecasting, extension and advisory services, and real-time field data collection), finance (e.g. payments and digital credit records), business relationships (e.g. online marketing platforms) and markets (e.g. internet connections, voice and text messaging and digital platforms for product traceability).530 Nevertheless, access to them is often a challenge in rural areas. Given the global trend of moving online, including rural communities in this “digital nation” is becoming imperative. The absence of means for participation could block the development of the entire forest sector. A lack of coverage is a major reason why the sector remains relatively conventional and the development and uptake of innovation has been slow, despite the considerable potential benefits that exist.

Many social, economic and demographic factors – such as education, income, ethnicity and gender – limit the use and adoption of digital technologies, particularly in rural areas and among the most vulnerable groups.531 A lack of infrastructure and quality (connection speed), combined with high costs, also limit access for forest communities and rural populations in less-developed countries.532 In Africa, only 25 percent of urban households and 6.3 percent of rural households have internet access.533 Worldwide, 2.9 billion people are still unconnected, particularly in Africa, Asia, South America and the Pacific Islands. The Working Group on 21st Century Financing Models for Sustainable Broadband Development recognizes that, to address the critical issues of access, affordability and equality, new approaches are needed that support the development of digital infrastructure, especially where it would otherwise not be profitable.534

Another challenge is the cost of services and disparities in purchasing power. For example, voice and mobile data packages cost 3.2 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively, of per-capita gross national income in the Americasr but 12 percent and 11.4 percent in Africa.572 Other challenges in sub-Saharan Africa include a lack of farmer involvement in the design of mobile apps, a lack of trust and transparency, the use of foreign languages, inadequate considerations of cultural contexts, low education and training, low commitment and collaboration, and bureaucracy.535

Investments in digital public goods536 and public digital infrastructure537 can help bridge the digital gap and overcome reluctance among service providers to invest in remote and unprofitable areas.538,539 In Brazil, the government has developed a plan to increase internet adoption, particularly among rural youth; Bolivia (Plurinational State of) has implemented broadband access in strategic rural communities; and, in Chile, the government has subsidized infrastructure connections in more than 1 400 areas that had limited or no connectivity.540

Digital technologies can support farm and landscape-level planning, monitoring, production logistics and access to markets

The potential for digital technologies to change forestry is high. To date, the main developments have been in the inventorying and monitoring of forest resources; land-use planning and land-change monitoring; forestry production and machinery logistics; transport logistics and the traceability of forest products (Box 38); and business management and marketing support (Box 39). Box 40 provides an example of remote-sensing-supported planning of restoration. Multiple non-technical obstacles exist to the mobilization of digital innovations and scaling up their use, however.

Box 38 A locally developed due-diligence system in Viet Nam

Assessing timber legality is necessary for ensuring that only legal or low-risk timber enters responsible supply chains and markets. In Viet Nam, the Handicraft and Wood Industry Association of Ho Chi Minh City (HAWA) has developed a technology platform to support transparency and due diligence for each seller–buyer transaction involving members of HAWA’s due-diligence system. For domestic timber sources, real-time and georeferenced evidence can be uploaded together with the required documentation or verifiers. The HAWA team flags possible risks and makes information available to potential buyers. As well as providing an opportunity for forest owners to register their plantations and document their harvests, the platform facilitates and documents a transparent due-diligence process for transactions and sales along the timber supply chain.

SOURCE: FAO–European Union Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Programme. 2021. Locally developed due diligence system launched in Viet Nam | FAO-EU FLEGT Programme [online]. [Cited 11 November 2021].

Box 39 A women’s association produces sustainable charcoal in Côte d’Ivoire

The Association of Women Producers and Traders of Secondary Forest Products (MALEBI) in Côte d’Ivoire produces and sells charcoal while also conserving natural forests through reforestation activities, capacity development and advocacy. MALEBI has a partnership with the state-owned company SODEFOR to manage 4 500 ha and help reforest a degraded part of the Ahua gazetted forest in Dimbokro. MALEBI involves hundreds of local village women and members of the Women’s Federation of Dimbokro in planting native species such as Cassia siamea and teak (Tectona grandis). In 2018–2020, the FAO–European Union Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Programme and Resource Extraction Monitoring helped MALEBI develop a traceability mobile app, Charcoal Trace, using blockchain technology to track its charcoal along the entire value chain. MALEBI can now certify its charcoal’s origin and sustainability.

SOURCES: Bottaro, M. 2021. Women’s participation in wood-based value chains in voluntary partnership agreement countries – MALEBI: Women at the forefront of sustainable charcoal production in Côte d’Ivoire – The experience of the FAO-EU FLEGT Programme. Rome, FAO.
Eulalieguillaume. 2021. La technologie Blockchain pour la bonne gouvernance du charbon de bois en Côte d’Ivoire | by Eulalieguillaume | Gaiachain Lab | Medium [online]. [Cited 14 November 2021].

Box 40 An app for preparing strategic restoration plans

In collaboration with various partners, FAO has developed Se.plan as part of its System for Earth Observation Data Access, Processing and Analysis for Land Monitoring, which combines ecological data on forest restoration with data on socio-economic costs, benefits and risks. The app, which is designed to support the preparation of strategic restoration plans in a given region, provides spatially explicit information on restoration suitability and the most relevant impacts for the restoration objectives of users. Se.plan covers 139 low- and middle-income countries, enabling users to consider the importance of factors such as cost (e.g. opportunity and establishment costs), risk (e.g. governance variables and demographic dynamics) and benefits (e.g. job creation potential).

SOURCE: System for Earth Observation Data Access, Processing and Analysis for Land Monitoring. Undated. Se.plan – SEPAL documentation [online]. [Cited 23 November 2021].

Digital technologies can be useful in forest protection, such as by assisting in the detection of fire, illegal forest use, forest degradation and forest-cover change and for obtaining data on sustainable forest management. Geospatial forest-mapping products are becoming more accessible, as are excellent participatory mobile-phone global information system-activated forest monitoring products; even the camera function of smartphones is a valuable tool. More advanced approaches might involve drones (Box 41). Digital technology is becoming easier to use (and can encourage the involvement of youth). This, coupled with their increasing affordability, will make digital approaches more cost-efficient.

Box 41 Using drones for community forest monitoring in Panama

To strengthen natural resource management capacity in indigenous territories, FAO and the UN-REDD Programme implemented a community forest-monitoring project involving the use of drones. The training included preparing drone flight plans, arming and flying drones, image processing and mapping with high-resolution images. The main objectives were to identify changes in forest cover indicating deforestation or forest degradation and to monitor the status of crops and encroachments on territorial boundaries. The use of drones greatly facilitated these objectives.

SOURCE: FAO. 2018. e-Agriculture promising practice – Drones for community monitoring of forest. Rome. 12 p. (also available at
SOURCE: FAO. 2018. e-Agriculture promising practice – Drones for community monitoring of forest. Rome. 12 p. (also available at

Information from public and private technical and extension services is becoming available online and as apps, including for various public services, making them more inclusive, especially for those who live far from physical service centres. E-services can cover many aspects of forestry, such as applications for logging and transport permits and ordering tree seedlings.

The rise of online marketing and sales in rural settings. Digital marketing and commerce have become more important in the pandemic. Many forest products can now be sold via e-commerce, including NWFPs. Digital online marketing events can help promote products, and mobile-assisted services are being tested to deliver products to customers.

Timber producers and traders in tropical countries have been severely affected by the pandemic, with cancelled orders and a wide range of logistical challenges, with associated impacts on livelihoods. Many micro, small and medium-sized enterprises have turned to digital solutions to facilitate market access while upholding timber legality commitments. In Indonesia, the Volunteers Alliance for Saving Nature (Aliansi Relawan Untuk Penyelamatan Alam – ARUPA), with help from FAO and motivated by a reported 80 percent increase in online trading of timber products during the pandemic, established Woodenasia, a legal-timber supplier e-platform that links forest communities to processors. The platform now features more than 200 timber, furniture and handicraft products produced by verified-legal micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.541

Traceability and transparency in forest-product trade. The origin and legality of timber and some non-timber products is especially important in tropical forestry, with certified legality mandatory for export to certain markets. Outdated paper records are giving way to digital options such as digital barcodes. Blockchain technology also has potential for facilitating transparency, reliability, security and traceability in the forest sector. Well-established global certification bodies are starting to use blockchain in their business processes, such as the FSC, which is in the final stages of incorporating blockchain into its chain-of-custody certification with the aim of lowering costs, which might benefit smallholders.

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