New maps put online today by the Rainforest Foundation UK – following two years of training and helping local villagers to use sophisticated mapping techniques – have revealed an extensive network of previously ‘invisible’ forest land ownership, occupation and use which could challenge many of the current ideas about how best to ‘protect’ rainforests in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The new maps added to RFUK’s MappingForRights.org
website provide, for the first time ever, detailed evidence that communities already living in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo have long-standing ‘territories’ which together cover vast areas of forest – the Congo Basin rainforest is the second largest after the Amazon.
Joe Eisen, Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for the Rainforest Foundation UK, said: “Contrary to common belief that Africa’s great rainforests are wild and uninhabited places, our new maps indicate that they are in fact covered by traditional community and clan territories that are as contiguous as, say, parish boundaries in England.”
The new maps, which cover more than 518,000 acres (209,000 hectares) of rainforest land in the Democratic Republic of Congo, show that the forest communities within the area have developed a complex pattern of clearly recognised ‘territories’. These areas are likely to have been developed and the knowledge of them handed down verbally from generation to generation for up to three-thousand years.
But, until now, this pattern of land use and ‘ownership’ has never been recorded or officially recognised.
website also shows that, despite long-standing traditional occupation, these lands have often been allocated as areas for other uses such as for the extraction of timber or the enforced protection of wildlife – often causing conflict with or displacement of local people.
Joe Eisen said: “It is now widely understood that helping local forest communities to protect their land is one of the best and cheapest ways to conserve tropical rainforests. The scale of traditional occupation in part of DR Congo’s rainforests which we have demonstrated suggests that similar patterns could extend across the entire Congo Basin rainforest, and must be taken into account in future plans to protect these forests. The concept of Central Africa’s rainforests as wildernesses that should be protected through uninhabited national parks or wildlife reserves must urgently be re-evaluated.”