Newsletter – Putting Communities on the Map quicker!

April 15, 2014


Mapping for Rights 2.0 – Putting Communities on the Map quicker!

Mapping data can now be transferred directly from the field through the use of specialised software and GPS-enabled tablets – marking phase two of the Rainforest Foundation UK’s (RFUK’s) MappingForRights initiative.

MappingForRights is the first ever fully interactive online map of community lands, and enables local and indigenous forest communities to demonstrate their occupation, use and custodianship of tropical forests, representing the largest ever community mapping exercise in Central Africa.

Through the use of specialised software and GPS-enabled tablets, communities in the DRC with the support of local CSOs are now able to upload, in near real-time, precise geographical data about their customary lands and resources to the upgraded online MappingForRights platform. This enables an ever growing number of users including governments, NGOs and policy makers to analyse, for the first time, detailed geo-referenced data and embedded multi-media content in the context of other land claims such as palm oil concessions and strictly protected areas – with the aim of improving decision-making around forests and communities.

Blaise Mudodosi, Advocacy Coordinator at Rights Resource Network (RRN), RFUK’s local project partner in DRC, said that at times there is the erroneous impression that communities’ lower education rates means they cannot speak for themselves.

“We think that new technologies will facilitate; they will provide new opportunities to those communities. Even if they have not studied for many years, even if they have limited knowledge, communities are now able to document their forests using tablets with integrated symbols and applications that are easy to use,” he said.

Simon Counsell, Executive Director for RFUK said: "It is now widely understood that supporting indigenous peoples and local communities to protect their land is one of the best and cheapest ways to conserve tropical rainforests. The problem is that there are often no records even of where these communities are, or of which areas of forest they use or wish to protect.”

“, for the first time, literally puts African forest communities on the map, and can be an essential start in the process of securing legal protection for their land,” Mr Counsell added.

Although the map only contains data representing a small fraction of these communities, and so far only in Africa, the new website is already starting to show graphically how the areas of forest on which these communities depend have been handed out arbitrarily to logging companies, or put off-limits in National Parks or other strict conservation areas.

About Mapping For Rights

The Rainforest Foundation UK and our partner network in the Congo Basin have been supporting local communities and indigenous peoples to map their lands in the face of increasing pressure on forests from the extractive industries and other land users since 2000. Since then, the programme has supported some 300 forest communities to produce maps of their lands and resources covering over 2,000,000 hectares. Such work has delivered real results across the region from stopping harmful infrastructure projects to securing land rights around strictly protected areas.

Today, the need to scale up efforts to support communities to accurately map community land tenure and resource use is more pressing than ever. A number of national land reform or forest zoning processes have been initiated or earmarked for the region will have a critical impact on the forest and its 50 million inhabitants by determining which areas will be allocated for which purposes and establishing the level of rights that will be afforded to communities. Emerging threats from the expansion of agro-industries, infrastructure and mining are also placing further pressure on communities, forests and livelihoods.

RFUK is at the forefront of developing geospatial technologies and new mapping methodologies that can respond to these challenges – which is enabling us to greatly expand coverage, improve data flows and bridge the gap between remote forest communities and central decision making processes. Specifically, the new phase includes:

• Field-based GIS technicians and mapping facilitators (“Mobile Mapping Laboratories”) providing ongoing support to local communities - significantly reducing operating costs of organising field missions from capital or provincial cities;

  • Mapping of customary rights as well as resource use mapping;
  • Innovations in icon-based software on GPS-enabled tablets to facilitate participation of non-literate people;
  • Data attributes relating to social development indicators (among others) – essentially allowing us to geo-reference development;
  • The capacity to upload data, in near real-time, directly to the MappingForRights web platform

Recent RFUK-supported mapping work has focussed on the Democratic Republic of Congo, where, over the last 6 months:

  • 20 NGO representatives have been trained on participatory mapping and GIS technologies within a training cycle of two workshops of three weeks each and are able to conduct independently participatory mapping with forest communities;
  • 60 community maps have been produced by forest communities in two forest territories in DRC (Lukoléla and Inongo). Plans are advanced to cover a third territory;
  • 600 trained community mappers are able to collect geo-referenced data about community tenure and use of forest resources and can further develop discussions about the possible uses of the map;
  • Initial technical development for testing forest real time monitoring.
  • 15 young jurists and five NGO representatives have benefited from two training workshops of 3 weeks each on forest legislation, governance and community rights and are able to support forest communities for promoting their rights;
  • Two advocacy workshops have strengthened strategic capacities of partner organisations; 5 working sessions have improved partners capacities on project and finance management.

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