IGES-FPCD Community-Based Forest Monitoring Project in Papua New Guinea

Madang Province, Papua New Guinea
Key Lessons 
  • The FPCD-IGES Community-Based Forest Monitoring Project, based in Papua New Guinea, uses an approach consisting of collaborative monitoring, external expert data analysis, and local data interpretation.
  • The biomass data collected by participating communities shows a level of reliability similar to data collected on the same forest type in the same province in another study carried out by professionals.
  • Project costs, including community training, were found to be roughly half the cost of carrying out the same work with a full team of professional foresters.
  • For the monitoring work to continue in the long term, it will likely need to be linked to income-earning activities, such as community based timber milling and results-based REDD+ payments.
  • Stronger links are needed between initiatives such as this and key stakeholders such as local and national governments, preferably from the design stage, in order to maximise the potential for scaling up and scaling out.  



The Community-Based Forest Monitoring Project (CFMP) was launched in 2010 and is being implemented in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea (PNG), across six clans, each of which owns forest patches within large contiguous areas of forest. The project is being developed by the Foundation for People and Community Development (FPCD), a Papua New Guinean non-governmental, not-for-profit organisation, with support from the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES). The scope of the monitoring includes the response of forests to forestry operations, as required by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards, as well as forest biomass, to assess the feasibility of REDD+ as an additional incentive for forest management for the participating clans.

The CFMP is one element of a community-based forestry support model developed by FPCD, through which FPCD trains communities to manage their forest resources in accordance with FSC principles, and on timber milling and marketing, and business management.

The project is intended as an alternative to current forestry practices. About 97% of PNG’s biodiversity rich natural forests are owned by local clans under customary tenure arrangements. Their cultural systems and traditional livelihoods are closely tied to forests, but they also desire the benefits that they anticipate ‘development’ will bring. This development often takes the form of large-scale logging, and clearing of forests for agriculture and mining by outside companies. The benefits are mostly short-lived, and the broader outcomes include loss and severe degradation of forests, as well as social harm.

Community-based forest monitoring offers a way forward by enabling the customary forest owners to generate scientifically valid data that can help them make wise choices relating to land and forest management, while retaining control over their forests.

International Forest Agenda/s 
Monitoring Theme/s 
Carbon biomass
  • Biomass in living trees with DBH > 5 cm
  • Biomass in lying deadwood
  • (Standing deadwood initially measured but found to be insignificant)
Deforestation drivers
Land use change
  • Land cover change using digital processing of remotely sensed images and ground-based map accuracy assessment
  • Timber species per hectare
Natural resources

The following indicators were used for a Commercial Timber monitoring theme:

  • Volume of commercial trees with DBH > 50 cm
  • Smaller DBH trees also measured to estimate allowable annual cut
  • Volume of harvested and milled timber
  • Income from sales

Policy context

The constitution created by PNG’s founding fathers requires that natural resources and the environment are conserved and used for the collective benefit of all, and replenished for the benefit of future generations. PNG’s Forest Policy thus aims at the management and protection of the nation’s forest resources as a renewable natural asset, and the utilisation of the nation’s forest resources to achieve economic growth, employment, greater Papua New Guinean participation in industry, and increased viable onshore processing.

Over the past 30 years, the Government has introduced legislation to increase its control over the country’s forest resources. This control is mostly exercised by the State acquiring the rights to timber resources from the customary owners, designing forestry projects, and then inviting developers to undertake the projects. The customary owners are expected to benefit through royalties, infrastructure and services that the developers provide. Unlike a number of other countries in the region, there is no national programme that effectively promotes and supports community-based forest management. Although the PNG Forestry Authority has an Eco-forestry Policy to promote community-based portable timber milling, it is a relatively minor policy that receives little attention.

Strong interest in REDD+ is evident. The Government voluntarily committed PNG to reducing national greenhouse gas emissions by 50% below the business as usual forecast by 2030, and it sees REDD+ as playing a key role in delivering these emissions reductions. It established the National Climate Change Committee (NCCC) and the Office of Climate Change and Development (OCCD) to develop a REDD+ strategy and coordinate REDD+ readiness. The Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) and UN-REDD are the two largest funders of PNG’s REDD+ readiness. They are directing their efforts towards building capacity and systems for a multipurpose forest inventory that would serve the requirements of REDD+. There is little investment in engaging communities in forest monitoring.

Community participation

Using the classification system for relative involvement of actors in forest monitoring proposed by Danielsen et al. (2009), the monitoring approach that is promoted by the CFMP could be described as collaborative monitoring with local data interpretation, though, more correctly, the data generated by the communities is analysed by outside experts, and the results are presented for the communities to act on. The CFMP aims to fully engage with the participating communities in all aspects of forest monitoring, with the aim of building competent community based forest monitoring teams.

The five basic elements that comprise the CFMP approach are (i) Feasibility assessment and stakeholder engagement, (ii) Agreeing on the objectives, technical parameters and building a community based forest biomass monitoring design, (iii) Designing and delivering community level training whilst testing the forest biomass assessment design, (iv) Reflecting on the testing, and adapting the design of the forest biomass assessment and the community training, (v) Agreeing on next steps. (These steps are described in Community Based Forest Biomass Monitoring Manual by Edwards, Scheyvens, Stephenson, and Fujisaki, 2014).

The key capacity-building activity under the CFMP is the implementation of a training programme on forest monitoring in each community. The communities select about 8-10 of their members for the forest monitoring training. The participation of women is encouraged.

The training programme runs over three days, and has at times been organised back-to-back with other trainings, e.g. refresher training on FSC standards for communities milling timber. Day 1 is spent in and around the villages and involves training on (i) the purpose and principles of forest monitoring, (ii) the monitoring variables, methods and equipment, (iii) data recording, and (iv) team management. Days 2 and 3 are spent in the forest, where the trainers guide the teams in locating, setting up, measuring and recording data from permanent sample plots (PSPs). A community-friendly field manual has been drafted as a resource for the training and to guide the monitoring.  

It is important to note that the facilitation of community-based forest monitoring requires experts skilled in both forest/biodiversity/carbon inventory and community facilitation techniques. Therefore, project activities also included workshops to build the capacities of FPCD foresters as facilitators.

Monitoring methodology

Land cover / land use mapping

The intention is for each community to be legally incorporated as a land group, which will give it greater control over its land and resources. To be incorporated as a land group requires that traditional land ownership boundaries are demarcated following procedures set out in the law. The demarcation of boundaries is also necessary for the estimation of annual allowable cut and for the estimation and monitoring of forest biomass.

With these points in mind, the boundaries of the forest patches were demarcated through ground-based surveys by teams comprising FPCD foresters and local community members, who used Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to record the tracks walked. During the demarcation, which generally took several days, the teams consulted with neighbouring communities to ensure local agreement on the boundaries.   

Remote sensing was introduced by the CFMP to provide accurate mapping of land cover, and to project emissions under alternative forest and land management scenarios. The participating communities assisted the mapping experts in interpreting some of the ground features that could be seen in satellite images and participated in map accuracy assessment (“ground truthing”).

Biomass assessment

The community forest monitoring teams are trained in how to locate and set out nested rectangular plots; tree marking and tagging; and on the use of GPS, survey tapes, diameter tapes, and clinometers. In addition to tree measurement, the community teams take measurements for estimating biomass in lying deadwood and they record site conditions, such as altitude, slope, aspect, and disturbance (natural and human causes). The teams also record tree species in their local languages, and a database is being constructed to make it easy to map these with the botanical names.

Other assessment and monitoring

In order to comply with the FSC standard for forest management, and prior to the launching of the CFMP, FPCD facilitated participatory land-use mapping for the communities to zone their different land uses in order to improve their management of their land and natural resources; undertook forest resource assessments to calculate a sustainable annual allowable cut; prepared a basic socio-economic  baseline through semi-structured interviews with the communities; and provided training to the communities on how to establish a “set up” in the forest, which identifies the trees to be harvested.

Accuracy of data

The reliability of the data collected by the communities has been checked by comparing the biomass estimates from this data with biomass estimates for the same forest type generated by other studies (see Table 1 below). There is no statistically significant difference between the biomass estimate from the community measurements and the biomass estimate from one expert survey of the same forest type in the same province. The coefficient of variation across the PSPs in the community measurement is higher than that of the expert study due to the use of much smaller plot sizes (1,225m2) by the former, compared with the latter (10,000 m2), and is also likely to be associated with the fact that the community sample plots were randomly located over diverse terrain.    

Table 1. Accuracy of community data compared with expert data

Location forest type

biomass estimates from community measurements, for living trees with dbh** > 5cm and lying deadwood (~7% of tree carbon pool)

biomass estimates from expert study (Fox et al., 2010), for living trees with dbh > 10cm
Madang Province, PNG Mostly lowland and montane primary moist tropical forest (Hm* class) 127.7 ± 40 (SD***) tC/ha**** 106.3 ± 22.7 (SD) tC/ha

*Hm: medium-crowned upland forest **DBH: diameter at breast height ***SD: standard deviation ****tC/ha: tonnes of carbon per hectare


Tables 2 and 3 below present a rough costing of CFMP inputs and an estimation of costs for a hypothetical forest survey by a team of foresters from the PNG Forestry Authority. The costs are for establishing and measuring three 35 m x 35 m sample plots in one forest patch. The CFMP costs include training the community on forest mensuration and exclude the training-of-trainers and opportunity costs associated with the time spent by the community on the training and monitoring. The CFMP costs are roughly half of the costs for a full team of professional foresters.

Table 2. Cost of survey by CFMP, in Papua New Guinea Kina (PGK). (Note on exchange rate: 1PGK = ~USD0.4, November 2014)

item Unit amount per unit (PGK) total (PGK) details
travel 1 2,000 2,000 2 full tanks of fuel; vehicle depreciation
camping equipment and food 1 1,000 1,000  
accommodation in town 1 1,000 1,000  
venue for 1 meeting in town 1 500 500  
stipends 25 50 1,250 4 foresters and 1 driver x 5 days
contribution to community 1 200 200  
grand total     5,950  

Assumptions 1) 2 days’ travel + 1 day classroom training + 2 days’ training to set up 3 35m x 35m permanent sample plots = total 5 days; 2) Foresters have own vehicle and will have to pay stipend to driver; 3) Foresters competent in community facilitation; 4) 4 foresters will act as trainers and will break into two teams on days 2 and 3;   5) Stipend of 50 kina per day; 6) Preparation: 3 days; 7) Reporting and acquittals: 3 days.

Table 3. Costs of hypothetical survey by team from Forestry Authority, in Papua New Guinea Kina (PGK).

item unit amount per unit (pnk) total (pnk) details
stipend 20 200 4,000 For 20 foresters in the field (includes food)
vehicle hire 4 800 3,200  
fuel 1 500 500 2 full tanks of fuel
camping equipment 1 1,000 1,000  
porters 8 50 400  
accommodation in town 4 250 1,000  
grand total       10,100

Assumptions 1) 2 days' travel + 1 day discussion with community 2 days to set up and measure 3 35m x 35m PSPs = total 5 days; 2) Prefer to hire vehicle rather than use one in car pool; 3) Spend one night in hotel in the town; 4) 4 foresters participate; 5) Stipend of 200 kina per day, including food costs; 6) Use 4 porters at 50 kina x 2 ways each

Source of funding

The funding for the CFMP has been provided by the Ministry of the Environment of Japan under annual budgets related to climate change mitigation.

Achievements and challenges

The main achievement of the CFMP has been the development and testing of an approach to support community-based forest monitoring in PNG, with the intention of communities retaining control over their forests. Central to this approach is a training programme that builds the competency of communities for their participation in forest sampling. The training programme reflects local specificities, such as culture and relationship with the land and forest, and accommodates people with a low level of literacy and little experience with measurement protocols, while seeking to make fullest use of their rich traditional and local knowledge.    

While the communities have shown enthusiasm for community-based forest monitoring (as they explain in these videos), to maintain this interest over time requires that communities realise benefits from the monitoring. As they are strongly interested in earning an income from their forests, this means that the monitoring should be directly linked with income earning activities. While the communities received training from FPCD on timber milling in compliance with the FSC standards, only one or two are milling timber on a regular basis, meaning this provides them with little incentive for the monitoring. Also, unless income can be generated through REDD+, it is unlikely that the communities would remeasure the sample plots on their own initiative. The challenge is now to incentivise the monitoring by supporting the community-based timber milling to become a viable operation and linking community-based land-use planning and forest management and monitoring with results-based REDD+ payments.  

The importance of a thorough feasibility assessment for community-based forest monitoring and outreach was clear during the course of the CFMP. In some locations, tensions between neighbouring clans and insufficient understanding of the monitoring among the wider community posed challenges. The need to invest time in understanding relationships within and between clans and in regular meetings with the wider local communities was recognised.

Efforts were made to keep the PNG Forestry Authority at the national and provincial level, as well as funders of REDD+ readiness (specifically JICA) informed of the CFMP. High level national officials visited the project sites and participated in training-of-trainer workshops. The Provincial Forestry Office assisted with the community trainings. However, stronger links between the CFMP (and other similar initiatives) and key stakeholders are needed for designers of the national forest monitoring system to pay serious attention to the idea of community-based forest monitoring.

The data generated has been shared with the PNG Forestry Authority. The plot design differs from that used for the PSPs maintained by the PNG Forest Resources Institute, but the measurement protocols are basically the same. The data could be used either directly in national biomass assessments, or indirectly to confirm the reliability of national assessments.

There is potential for community-based forest monitoring in PNG to include assessment of a wide range of forest values and forest disturbance, and to be linked not only with community-based timber milling and REDD+, but also to the objectives of and reporting for the Convention on Biological Diversity and to initiatives to combat illegal logging and the resultant trade. The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) has agreed to include indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) in its regional assessments. A new challenge for the CFMP and similar initiatives is to examine how local communities can contribute to and benefit from the IPBES assessments.


Henry Scheyvens from IGES wrote and provided this case study.