Forest communities map their land using data loggers

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Copyright: Chris Stowers/Panos

By Emese Balog – SciDev.Net

Simple data logging devices can help forest communities map their land and monitor environmental change, according to researchers running a trial.

An ongoing project by NGO the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) encourages indigenous people in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo, to use portable, satellite-linked data loggers to create maps of areas that have not been mapped in great detail, or where existing maps are out of date.

These devices help communities visualise their rights of land use, says FPP policy advisor Marcus Colchester. “Based on the communities’ own knowledge — combined with the use of these devices — they can readily make maps, which demonstrate the areas they have claims to, areas they’re using and for what purposes they’re using them,” he says.

Once data has been gathered, maps can be created in minutes by connecting the devices to a computer, and it is easy to revise maps with updated information.
“Based on the communities’ own knowledge — combined with the use of these devices — they can readily make maps, which demonstrate the areas they have claims to, areas they’re using and for what purposes they’re using them,”

The first results of the trial, announced on 1 June, showed that such information can help communities make their case for access rights to land with local governments and companies with local logging licences. It can also assist conservationists who want to extend protected areas, Colchester says.

The tracking devices can help record environmental change — such as desertification, deforestation and changes in river systems — especially in countries with few recent maps. “These devices can be used for monitoring changes as well as mapping the extent of land rights and land uses,” Colchester says.

The devices are simple. Members of the Dayak community in Kalimantan were ready to map their lands after 45 minutes of training, and were confident enough to pass the practical knowledge on, says Chris Phillips, mapping and GIS (geographical information system) coordinator at FPP.

In addition to the Kalimantan project, the team is working with forest communities in Cameroon, where FPP is using data loggers to plot how customary land rights overlap with mining concessions, protected areas and other land uses, such as logging and plantations.

“The use of data loggers to map and monitor lands and activities will play a central role in our Community-Based Monitoring and Information System we are trying to implement among the communities we are working with,” Phillips says. What makes this project special is that it involves indigenous communities, according to Richard Donovan, who leads the forestry programmes at charity the Rainforest Alliance. Previously, only people with technical training could do mapping, he says. The technology is now simple enough for local people to monitor their own lands, without needing external support beyond initial training, he adds.

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