Precision forestry: A way forward for the timber industry in East Africa
Forestry is a vital sector for the economies and livelihoods of many people in East Africa. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have a combined forest area of about 65.5 million hectares, which accounts for about 27% of their total land area¹. These forests provide a range of goods and services, such as timber, fuelwood, charcoal, non-timber forest products, biodiversity conservation, watershed protection, climate regulation and recreation.
However, these forests are also under increasing pressure from various drivers of deforestation and degradation, such as agricultural expansion, population growth, urbanization, infrastructure development, illegal logging, fire and pests. According to FAO, the annual net loss of forest area in these three countries was about 0.4 million hectares between 2010 and 2020³.
To address these challenges and to improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of forestry, there is a need for innovation and transformation. One of the emerging trends that is reshaping forestry is precision forestry. Precision forestry is a method in which the characteristics of forests, treatments, biodiversity preservation, and recreational opportunities can be accurately determined, at the forest stand, plot, or individual tree level.
Precision forestry is enabled by wide range of emerging technologies, such as drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), laser scanning (lidar), soil sensors, satellite imagery, geographic information systems (GIS), web-based platforms and mobile applications. But precision forestry is not simply the adoption of digital technologies. It is also the use of data management and analytical tools to support site-specific, economic, environmental and social decision-making and actions along the forestry value chain.