People indigenous to some of the world’s most precious natural environments are helping to preserve their way of life using GPS mapping.
Communities native to the world’s second biggest rainforests in the Congo Basin, for example, rely on the ecosystem for 80-90% of their resources, through activities such as hunting and fishing that they have practised for years.
Because they are semi-nomadic, meaning that they move around the rainforest rather than living in a single, fixed location, the extent to which they live and work there is often disputed. The rainforests are under constant threat from industries such as logging and farming (both legal and illegal), so already these people are used to seeing their world shrink around them. But even conservation itself can, ironically threaten their way of life, as frequently protections not only prevent the destruction of the forest but also their right to continue their own activities there.
Tribes are also enabled, using their GPS devices, to hold companies who have been granted specific rights to be held accountable when they exploit or violate restrictions that have been set upon their operations. For example more than 6000 Bantu and 1500 Pygmies are now involved in policing logging activity in the Bandundu and Equateur provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo through participatory mapping.
Organizations such as Rainforest Foundation UK have been training community members as ‘Master Mappers’ to create maps by initially sketching their homeland out and then using GPS devices to accurately locate the places on the map.
The aim is to create a territory map that can be presented to the Congolese Government when they meet on May 8th to determine the future of the rain forest – with regard to parceling of the forest for industrial purposes. The government has already made 11 concessions to logging companies from several European nations.
The maps will be offered as hard proof that these communities exist and live throughout the rainforest, and offer their representatives a chance to play a part in negotiations about their homeland.
As reported on CNN, a similar project has existed for more than 10 years in the Cameroon, where tribes in the Boumba Bek collected honey, mangoes and medicinal plants prior to it receiving National Park status under the jurisdiction of the World Wildlife Fund.
The Baka people were able to provide similar GPS based evidence and restore their right to operate within the region.
GPS offers an opportunity to these indigenous peoples to talk in the technological language that those contesting their rights have traditionally used to defeat them, and provides a very portable, low impact way of preserving their way of life.
Villagers celebrate completion of a community map, this time in the Central African Republic.
This article was also published on our K-12 Education blog – The maps101 blog.
- Tropical Rain Forests (socyberty.com)
- What happens to the wood that is cut down from the rainforests? (greenanswers.com)
- Digital defenders: Tribal people use GPS to protect their lands (energybulletin.net)
- Social Innovation: GPS Technology Empowering Indigenous People of the Congo Basin (emmageraln.com)
- Maps.com donates print maps to schools in Tanzania (maps.com blog)