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Vietnamese Farmers Gather UN Data on Deforestation with Smartphones

BY Jessica McKenzie | Thursday, July 11 2013

Deforestation (Flickr/A.Davey)

A case study in Vietnam found community based monitoring (CBM) an accurate and inexpensive way to gather data on deforestation. The trial was a part of the United Nations Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program (REDD). Community members in the Tra Bui commune of the Quang Nam province, armed with Android devices, were able to return data with an accuracy comparable to experts. They were more effective at monitoring small scale degradation from gathering wood for fuel or selective logging than satellite imagery.

Although the researchers considered the trial a success, there are hurdles to implementing a system like this on a large scale. In advance of the trial, 3G service providers and the power company in the region had to be contacted to try to ensure connectivity. That will always be a problem in remote areas, although the power supply problem can be solved by using solar-powered chargers.

While the cost of conducting the research was lower, the cost calculations did not take the cost of the Android device into account, meaning it is an expensive program to start.

Finally, although they found 60 percent of the local population used mobile phones to communicate on a daily basis, for the best results the community needs “technical supervision, trouble shooting and [a] capacity building program.”

REDD is a controversial part of the U.N. climate change agenda, and it has been difficult to implement. According to a thorough overview on the state of deforestation by ThinkProgress, the program only has $112.5 million to wield in its fight (a losing battle, some might say). Absolutely none of that came from the U.S., by the way. If REDD elbows its way into the climate change talks in Paris in 2015, maybe it will get some more attention from America. Maybe.

In addition to the small scale efforts in Vietnam, there is Google's Global Forest Watch 2.0 program. The U.N. also recently launched the online platform GlobAllomeTree, which scientists can use to assess forests, and share their data with the GlobAllomeTree community.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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