Building a governance framework for forest data in Eastern and Southern Africa

Facilitating information sharing for more effective and sustainable management
Landscape view of mixed used land at South West and West Mau Forest. Photo by Sande Murunga/CIFOR-ICRAF

Related stories

As the countries of Eastern and Southern Africa level up their forest monitoring practices in line with global and regional environmental commitments such as the Paris Agreement on climate change and AFR100 on restoration, questions have arisen about what to do with the rich and comprehensive data sets being generated.

The East and Southern Africa Forest Observatory (OFESA) was launched at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF)’s Nairobi conference in late 2018, with twin goals of supporting improved forest monitoring and reporting practices, and developing a data governance framework for the countries in the region. The Observatory’s geoportal, hosted by the Kenya-based Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD), currently receives forest data from contributing countries, where it can be accessed to tease out trends and learn from others’ examples.

Now, OFESA’s coordinators are looking beyond the bounds of the project and considering what kind of framework and arrangements are required to ensure the countries continue to share this kind of data over the longer term. “We are looking at the observatory as something that will be in operation for a long time, not just within the project duration,” said Douglas Bwire, a research officer at the Centre for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) who is based in Nairobi and plays a central role in coordinating and managing the project. “That’s our aim – that the observatory remains alive and that countries are able to appraise their data on an ongoing basis and see how other countries in the region are doing with regards to a range of forest trends and indicators.”

But for this to happen, “there has to be some kind of framework in place, to ensure that there is the incentive to share data,” said Bwire. As such, OFESA has spent considerable effort exploring with contributing countries what might suit. They recently carried out scoping and actor-mapping exercises with national forest agencies, NGOs, civil society and community-based organisations, private sector actors, and academia in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, with plans to do the same in Mozambique and Ethiopia over the coming months. The outcomes of these will help OFESA, led by a legal expert, to come up with suggestions for an effective and long-term data sharing framework within and between the countries.

The work has already revealed a range of existing data sharing practices between the countries involved, and identified some key gaps in terms of legal and policy frameworks. While the majority of stakeholders (58.6%) had organisational data-sharing agreements in place, with 52% already implementing them, these agreements were limited to inter-organizational data sharing, with no mention of agreements with specific platforms or networks.

“We need to explore ways of increasing data utilisation,” said Daniel Waiswa, a senior lecturer at Makerere University and a participant in the Tanzania country workshop. “Data is available amongst institutions, but there are no clear policies on how it can be shared.” Accessing data often requires emailing the head of an institution, who may approve, reject, or ignore the request. “We found that data-sharing between agencies and/or individuals is mainly based on interpersonal relationships or joint projects – so if various institutions are implementing a project together, it’s easier for them to share information, but it will be difficult for them to share with an external institution or agency,” said Bwire.

A progress report released early this year has also highlighted a number of key elements to be considered in the data governance framework, including: support for harmonised data production methodologies where possible; giving sources the opportunity to validate knowledge generated from raw data; ensuring the data is  provided free of charge throughout the value chain; clear guidelines around the handling of confidential data, including navigating Access to Information laws; respecting and protecting intellectual property rights deriving from data; making the data as accessible as possible, taking into account bandwidth requirements and language; prioritising technical accuracy; specifying timeframes for processing data requests; and more.

National consultation workshops have been conducted in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania, and the next step include initiating the same process in Mozambique.

OFESA provides a platform for sharing, exchanging, and accessing data and information related to East and Southern Africa’s forests.

For more information, please contact Douglas Ombogoh at

Copyright policy:
We want you to share Forests News content, which is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). This means you are free to redistribute our material for non-commercial purposes. All we ask is that you give Forests News appropriate credit and link to the original Forests News content, indicate if changes were made, and distribute your contributions under the same Creative Commons license. You must notify Forests News if you repost, reprint or reuse our materials by contacting