Mapping the way forward
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CTA. 2006. Mapping the way forward. Rural Radio Resource Pack 06/1. Wageningen, The Netherlands: CTA.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/57244
Community mapping for recognition of land rights and indigenous activities in the forests of Central Africa.
Mapping the way forward Cue: The Rainforest Foundation started working in the Amazon Rainforest of South America in 1989, working with communities whose livelihoods were threatened by the destruction of the rainforests. Since then, the Foundation has spread its work across a global scale to work with indigenous communities to protect their environment, particularly in the Congo Basin of Africa. Unlike those in the Congo Basin, the communities in South America have a long history of fighting to protect their land. In the Congo, most communities are marginalised with no power to protect their resources. The Foundation is applying techniques that it has used successfully in South America, to help communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in Cameroon, to try to prevent large-scale devastation. Geographical zoning is a process which determines which areas are to be conserved, and which are going to be open to exploitation. Maps showing these different zones are drawn using satellite images of the forest. The process of zone planning is already underway in Cameroon, and is just beginning in the Congo. The problem is that the satellite images do not recognise usage of the forest by local forest people. Their communities are not accounted for, and their indigenous boundaries are not considered. Simon Counsell is the Director of the Rainforest Foundation in the UK. He spoke to Susanna Thorp about his concerns, and how the Foundation is working on new technologies to help communities map their own boundaries. IN: ?For the last five or six years? OUT: ?experts simply disempowering local people.? DUR?N 4?54? BACK ANNOUNCEMENT: Simon Counsell of the Rainforest Foundation was talking to Susanna Thorp. Transcript Counsell For the last 5 or 6 years or so we have been working with Baka Pygmy communities in particular in the Southern Cameroon forest zone and really helping those communities through our local partner organisation, Centre for Environment and Development in Yaound‚, to actually train up local community mappers, to put Baka people back on the map simply by doing some fairly basic mapping of where their hunting grounds are, the sacred sites, where the important zones for gathering and collecting forest produce for fishing and so on. And what we are hoping to do in the case of Cameroon because there already is one of these grand zoning plans which does not show any of these Baka people as yet, is to try and get that official plan adapted and modified to take account of the actual reality on the ground that these people do exist and they are in the forest and they do depend on it. Thorp So just explain to me how these communities go out and map themselves? Counsell It is not such a difficult process, even though the communities that we have just started working with in Democratic Republic of Congo are largely illiterate and innumerate, still they are perfectly able of grasping the principals of mapping and of some of the fairly advanced technologies that are being used there. We spent a few days with communities explaining what the whole process is about, then go on to train in the use of geographical positioning systems and GIS systems to a certain extent, selection of community cartographers and usually then several days depending on how big the area is of course just walking this area, going around to all of the key sites with communities, getting GPS reference sites for those, so within a space of maybe 8 or 9 days we can have a fairly good and actually quite accurate map built by the communities themselves. You tend to find that different parts of the community are using the forest in different ways. The men?s hunting areas for example are different from areas where women might be gathering it might be the first time that the community has ever realised that there is this kind of pattern of different use that they have in the forest. So it starts to actually generate more of a sense of unity I think. Thorp Now we heard yesterday in the discussions that maps can be extremely powerful tools and they can empower local communities but there are also some dangers in the fact that now you have that knowledge sort of documented you are actually potentially revealing sacred sites or resources to a wider number of people? Counsell Well yes that is absolutely right and in some cases there is an understandable reluctance on the part of communities to reveal some of these locations on maps. And of course there is very much a responsibility on organisations like ours and our local partners that are doing these exercises to explain exactly how the maps are going to be used and to make absolutely sure that the communities themselves have ownership of the end product such that they can use it however they want to and if they want to destroy it because they do not want it, then that is entirely up to them. Thorp Now the Rainforest Foundation I can imagine only has limited resources and limited people to be able to go out and do this technique. How do you get this kind of approach sort of adopted on a wider scale or get your techniques known so that it can be used not just perhaps in the forests in central Africa but elsewhere for other community mapping needs? Counsell Well actually some of these techniques have been very well tried and tested in other parts of the world and if there is anything particularly innovative in what we are doing it is trying to apply these techniques and adapt them for the African circumstances. I think certainly the need for this kind of work are way, way beyond what a small organisation like the Rainforest Foundation can actually reach to. What we would like to do is demonstrate the positive results to international agencies like the World Bank, the European Commission for example and hope that ultimately these institutions will be funding programmes that will allow for much much wider application of these community based information technologies. Thorp And what about nationally, I mean have you had interest or perhaps resistance from Departments of Forestry at what you are trying to do and what you are revealing? I mean are they interested or are they saying you are interfering? Counsell The potential power of these techniques in challenging more frankly deeply rooted vested interests in the timber industry for example. So I think there is an amount of suspicion with this but what we try and do is to bring in national cartographic institutes for example and local officials when we are doing these community mapping exercises and make absolutely sure that everybody is clear what is actually going on. And what we usually find is that there is a level of enthusiasm here that there is a technique that can actually do something that international experts if you like can bring, that can genuinely empower local people because so often what they have seen in the past of course is actually international experts simply disempowering local people. End of track