Near real-time fire and deforestation alert systems for community-based MRV in Colombia

Belen de los Andaquies, Caquetá Department
Caquetá, Colombia (©unbettina)
Caquetá, Colombia (©umbettina)
Key Lessons 
  • While limited to a short timeframe, this initiative has created the capacity to monitor deforestation and disseminate information to local communities rapidly for the first time.
  • The availability of information on deforestation has resulted in the development of better enforcement action (compared to annual or biannual reports).
  • The participation of communities in this alert system is seen as fundamental to make it more effective and to provide essential information from the field for the national REDD+ Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) system in Colombia.

Community-based MRV is envisioned as an integral part of the national MRV system in Colombia. In the department of Caquetá, the region with the highest rates of deforestation in the country, a participatory near real-time deforestation and fires alert system has been developed and trialed at the local level. This initiative sought to engage communities in the REDD+ process, and connect them to the national MRV system and institutions, in particular the Autonomous Regional Corporations (CARs). These have jurisdiction over enviornmental matters in regions like the department of Caquetá.

As part of the Forest Carbon, Markets and Communities (FCMC) support to Colombia’s activities on the development of the national MRV system for REDD+,  this initiative established a near real-time deforestation and fire alert system. It is part of the national forest monitoring system of the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Research (IDEAM), linked to the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the Southern Amazonia (CorpoAmazonia). It also sought to expand Conservation International’s near real-time monitoring system in Colombia, Firecast.

The deforestation alerts were disseminated to CorpoAmazonia and local communities, so that they could provide feedback and guidance for the development of community-based MRV as part of the national MRV system. Results demonstrate the possibilities for community participation in near real-time alerts systems for national REDD+ MRV systems in Colombia.

International Forest Agenda/s 
Monitoring Theme/s 
Deforestation drivers
  • GPS location of fire and forest cover loss
  • GPS location and size (ha) of forest cover loss

Policy context

The Caquetá Department presents one of the highest deforestation rates in Colombia. In 2012, for example, the region experienced an increase of 193% in its rate of deforestation. The main causes of deforestation are small-scale subsistence agriculture, which is driven by state-led rural migration, mostly focused on cattle-raising and illicit crops (coca). Caquetá is therefore central in Colombia’s efforts to tackle deforestation, making it an important case study to trial key monitoring instruments. 

Colombia is currently undergoing the key stages of developing the national REDD+ institutional architecture; developing a MRV system is one of the key aspects. This is the responsibility of the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development (MADS), and is being developed and implemented by related agencies such as IDEAM. 

Engaging local communities in the REDD+ MRV process is seen as central for its effectiveness. The development of an early-warning alert system, in addition to engagement and analysis in cooperation with local communities, were identified as top priorities. A demonstration activity was therefore carried out to develop and test deforestation and fire alerts, in cooperation with local communities in Caquetá.

Monitoring methodology 

Conservation International (CI) and IDEAM have been working on the development of the deforestation and fire alerts methodology in Colombia, and were able to train and equip a workstation at the CorpoAmazonia office in Florencia, Caquetá to undertake monitor forest changes on a near real-time basis using GIS. 

The fire alert system was based on CI’s Firecast for Colombia, which was made publicly available in January 2015 at The Firecast Colombia system is developing a subscriber base of users who can customise their alert subscriptions according to specific areas of interest (country, department, municipality, protected area, and CAR) and language of choice. Subscribers can choose automated fire alerts daily, weekly, or at other specified intervals. 

IDEAM has received training and transfer of technology to develop an integrated deforestation and fire alerts system. IDEAM will continue to develop these systems and provide support to CARs that are developing deforestation alerts capacity, using training guides and examples of deforestation alerts developed for this activity.

Community participation 

Community leaders were engaged in the the initial stages of project in order to provide guidance and inform future work on community monitoring and REDD+ MRV work by the Colombian agencies. 

Community groups received maps with the different deforestation alerts, facilitating discussions between local leaders and officials from CorpoAmazonia on the causes of deforestation in different areas. They also discussed different uses for the deforestation alerts, as well as future opportunities for committees or user groups to validate the alerts and assist in enforcing forest laws more effectively. There was particular interest in receiving technical training and to have access to information and tools to monitor deforestation, fires and local forest resources.

Digital technology 

The model developed by this initiative uses the Firecast system to report forest-fire risk and deliver near real-time alerts on fire and deforestation activity in critical areas of interest to local community members and other stakeholders. 

The alert system uses manual interpretation of Landsat imagery methods to identify new clearing and logging activity, and distributes alerts based on this information. This system is appropriate for natural resource managers and communities at local and regional levels and does not require advanced technical training.

For fire activity, Firecast uses the active fire detections generated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) programme. This programme produces daily observations of active fires across the globe at a 1km spatial resolution, based on thermal observations. Firecast also incorporates daily estimates from CI’s near-real time fire-risk programme, which is based on a CI-developed model of forest flammability. This model provides daily, 5km estimates of flammability, based on model of litter moisture content that uses satellite estimates of precipitation, temperature and relative humidity

Achievements and challenges 

Although this activity was limited to a short timeframe, it demonstrated that alerts can be generated and disseminated with relatively simple tools, and that with support from IDEAM and CI, alerts and reliable maps can be also be produced in a relatively short timeframe. The capacity built among IDEAM and CorpoAmazonia will have a lasting impact on forest monitoring and engagement between communities and government agencies. 

Both CorpoAmazonia and the local communities expressed a need for building capacity and access to information and tools to monitor deforestation, fires and local forest resources. As Colombia develops its national MRV system, the development of local capacity to generate alerts will allow for increased community participation in the MRV process, and will ensure more effective CAR capacity to monitor and reduce deforestation activity.

There are also challenges in scaling up such systems for REDD+. In discussions with the community, the issue of payments for work on forest monitoring for the alerts system frequently arose. Communities such as Belen de los Andaquies have extensive experience working with previous biodiversity and forest monitoring projects, and in many cases received compensation or other incentives for this work. The FCMC activity was somewhat limited by the fact that it did not provide employment or compensation for communities to participate; this held back the level os participation and feedback, despite broad interest in the alerts and in information about REDD+ more broadly.

Providing compensation to communities for forest monitoring or inventory work related to REDD+ will add to the transactional costs of implementing REDD+, and it is not clear whether the REDD+ payments themselves will be sufficient to cover this. As such, future efforts on community-based monitoring work could consider alternative incentives and other types of information in which communities see greater inherent value.