Mobile app to help Uganda monitor, conserve forests

Friday April 01 2016

Forest monitors with telecommunication gadgets fitted with the Forest Watcher app in Budongo Central Forest Reserve in Masindi District in western Uganda. PHOTO | JGI | BRENDA MIREMBE

Local communities and forest rangers in Uganda can now monitor — and act on — the destruction of forests near them, thanks to a Forest Watcher mobile app.

The app, developed by the Jane Goodall Institute and its partners in Uganda, relays near-real time satellite-derived forest data and alerts to smartphones and tablets.

With this new app, forest rangers will now be alerted quickly to logging, recent clearing and encroachment on forests for farming and mining, among other unauthorised activities.

The app allows users to upload photos as evidence, and share them with law enforcement agencies.

Forest Watcher, which is free and available for download, enables offline access to recent satellite data on forest change, as well as features for documenting forest change from the ground and sharing with cloud-based servers.

The app will be a boost to traditional physical patrols and paper maps in documenting the health of parks.


The Forest Watcher system uses Open Data Kit (ODK), Android smartphones and tablets and Google API to support field data collection on monitoring efforts, wildlife presence, and human threats to forests and wildlife.

“An enforcement officer can use the Forest Watcher app to access and download forest loss alerts, than navigate to recent forest loss and collect evidence, including pictures, GPS co-ordinates and comments on what is happening on the ground,” the vice president of conservation science at Jane Goodall Institute Dr Lilian Pintea, told The EastAfrican.

Forest Watcher improves forest conservation by enabling local stakeholders with limited and occasional Internet connectivity to cache forest alerts from the Global Forest Watch platform on Forest Watcher, then navigate through those alerts in the field. Images or reports collected in the field can be uploaded to local servers, the cloud, or the platform whenever Internet connectivity is established — connecting evidence from the field with the world.

“If technology can assist us to find cheaper methods of monitoring, we must embrace them,” said State Minister for the Environment, Flavia Nabugera Munaaba at the launch of the app.

For more than 20 years, Jane Goodall Institute has worked directly with local communities and other stakeholders to build their capacity to better manage forests.

Since 2009, the institute has been working with Google to develop a simple, practical and easy-to-use community mobile mapping and monitoring platform that can work in rugged, remote and disconnected environments, with only occasional access to the Internet.

According to Dr Pintea, during the pilot and testing phase in Uganda representatives from the National Forest Authority, private forest owner associations and local communities used Forest Watcher app to locate and document the conditions on the ground in 2,761 locations.

The forest monitors confirmed deforestation in 90 per cent of locations that had been predicted using Landsat satellite images. They also confirmed deforestation in 70 per cent of locations that had been predicted using MODIS satellite images.

Global Forest Watch is an online forest monitoring and alert system that provides the most current, reliable, and actionable information about what is happening in forests worldwide.

GFW unites satellite technology, open data, and human networks to show where and how forests are changing, who is using them, and how we can help sustain them for future generations.

Jane Goodall Institute has been active in Uganda since 1991. Its primary work is to ensure long term conservation and protection of chimpanzees and their forest habitants through enhancing the national and local institutions to be effective custodians of this endangered ape.