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Automated wood identification app on cards for the Philippines

Image credit: fprdi.dost.gov.ph

According to reports, every year, the Philippines the country has about 21 million hectares of forest cover, covering 70% of the total land area in the 1900s. Four decades later, deforestation caught on that. By 1999, the Philippines only has 5.5 million hectares, with only 800,000 hectares of this was primary forest. The country loses approximately 47,000 hectares of forest cover and will continue to lose more due to the irresponsible widespread logging and mining activities happening all over the country, making the Philippines one of the most severely deforested countries in the Southeast Asian Region, and perhaps in the world.

From lawmakers to ecologists, the sense of urgency to safeguard the Philippines’ protected environmental areas is widespread. Unfortunately, the tools to do so are not. For communities directly affected by the degradation of biodiversity and forest resources, conservation may be essential for their livelihoods. The country is continuously looking for ways to use technology to protect forests and biodiversity for its people.

Now, The Department of Science and Technology- Forest Products Research and Development Institute (DOST-FPRDI) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Forest Management Bureau (DENR-FMB) are currently developing a mobile app that will allow people to easily identify a piece of wood by just using their smartphones. The joint project by the two agencies aims to identify selected wood species quickly and accurately through a digital wood identification system.

According to DOST-FPRDI, the project will use a machine-vision-based wood identification platform developed by a US Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory. The tech uses image analysis, statistical processing software, and the wood imaging device in capturing and analysing the wood’s cross-section. The app will identify initially 30 commercially traded wood species in the Philippines, which include endemic, exotic, and imported trees. As it can be used offline, the app is reliable even if the user is off-the-grid.

According to the agency, the project goal is to make sure all locally traded timber and timber products are correctly identified. Through the mobile app, a person can verify whether a piece of lumber is legally sourced or not. With the technology, both the government and the wood industry will greatly benefit in terms of monitoring illegally sourced lumber and in the long run can help in forest conservation.

The mobile app project is funded by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations under its European Union Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (EU-FLEGT) Programme and is expected to be completed by June 2021.

Moreover, for decades now, DOST-FPRDI’s wood identification service has been an important part of the government’s campaign against unlawful logging. Executive Order No. 23 strictly prohibits logging in all-natural and second-growth forests but allows the harvesting of trees grown in industrial plantations. Upon DENR’s request, the agency’s experts conducted on-site and off-site identification of confiscated wood and submitted reports which served as legal evidence against violators.

Furthermore, creating such technology available to stakeholders on the frontlines of the conservation effort has been considered a major development. With the data collected by an innovative forest and biodiversity protection system, environmental conservation is becoming not only tech-savvy but also comprehensive enough for local governments and communities to be involved in the initiatives. By enabling better coordination of forest and biodiversity monitoring efforts and environmental law enforcement, the technology helps resource managers and environmental law enforcers get the information they need more quickly. The government can use data collected to track its progress to meet conservation targets.

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