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Preventing deforestation – preserving biodiversity

destroyed rainforests
As in many other areas of the world, the rainforest in Ecuador is being destroyed on a large scale.

Ecuador is one of the 16 countries with the highest level of biodiversity in the world. This is in no small part due to the large areas of forest that still cover around 44% of the country’s land area. The Amazon region in particular is notable for its still extensive and very species-rich forests. However, Ecuador also has a high rate of deforestation, which leads to significant greenhouse gas emissions and a loss of biodiversity.

Mainly responsible for deforestation and the destruction of forests are the expansion of livestock farming and large-scale monocultures, oil and gas production and mining, but also the increasing demand for wood and insufficient monitoring of forest use. The Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment is aware of this problem and has designated large areas of forest as protected areas as an important strategy for preserving biodiversity. However, deforestation is also taking place in the in some cases remote and barely accessible protected areas. To date, it has not been possible to record this accurately in the absence of a functioning forest monitoring system.

KfW Development Bank provided EUR 5.5 million between 2017 and 2019 on behalf of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) to support the establishment of a national forest monitoring system, which has significantly improved the recording of deforestation with the aid of digital geodata management.

satellite pictures
Smallholder and industrial deforestation is automatically recorded every 15 days by satellite (red areas), transferred to the Ministry of Environment and verified in the field with tablets, cameras and drones.

Forest monitoring is based on satellite images, which are analysed using complex methods. High-quality new hardware and software enables the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment to subsequently process the data. Ministry staff received training and introduced new work-sharing processes for data analysis. The Ministry’s improved geodata management system in turn helps staff in the Amazon protected areas. “The work of a park ranger is strenuous and sometimes very dangerous. The project enables the rangers to pinpoint deforestation to within one hectare,” explains Alexandra Mylius, the project manager responsible at KfW Development Bank.

In the past, the Ministry of the Environment could only detect illegal deforestation with the help of reports from the local population or an only very imprecise evaluation of satellite images. Today, the rangers have tablets and receive updated data every two weeks even from the most remote parts of the protected areas – a huge step forward. This enables the rangers to specifically locate the deforested areas, take pictures and record GPS data. This is a prerequisite for being able to press charges against illegal deforestation. “With the new forest monitoring system, the park rangers and staff at the Ministry of the Environment in Ecuador can work much more efficiently and effectively,” confirmed Mylius.

The project has created the necessary conditions for new techniques to be used for forest monitoring, thus enabling deforestation to be detected more quickly and measures to combat it more effectively. Today, Ecuador is a leader in forest monitoring and thus also a role model for other countries in Latin America.