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Local forest mapping in Congo Basin may help villagers protect livelihoods

Page history last edited by Rosemary 10 years, 1 month ago

Even as world leaders were debating climate change at Copenhagen, eight Congolese villagers were busy creating an ecological inventory of the forest resources around them. Villagers like them all across the vast Congo Basin, whose 2.2 million square kilometers stretches across five Central African nations, are mapping their resources to help protect them from deforestation and uncontrolled logging.

"There is a rush for the trees," says Réné Ngongo of a local NGO, Organisation Concertée des Ecologistes et Amis de la Nature, which is working on the mapping with the aid of the Rainforest Foundation of the UK (RFUK). "What is at stake is enormous. Two-thirds of the people in Congo depend on this forest to provide food, medicines and building materials. It is critical for the survival of the people and animals."

Villagers in Manga and 100 others across the Republic of Congo recognize that managing those resources well is key to both their own survival and to sustainable long term prosperity, and that their mapping work can contribute to creating effective management. "If the forest is poorly managed, we won't get anything," said Dieudonne Nzabi of Manga. "But if it is well managed, we will get more money than from commercial logging."

The initiative, which began early in 2009 in Assengue, Ibangui, Epounou and Inga villages in Ollombo District in ROC's Plateaux nord region, is being implemented by the Congolese Human Rights Forum (OCDH) with the support of the RFUK and funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID). Given ROC government plans to resume handing out logging permits, the villagers are keen to negotiate exclusion zones and social investment projects that will protect a livelihood that is already threatened by existing and illegal logging. "We must go further and further (for food)," said Lobota, a farmer and hunter. "The animals have gone away."

 

Data for decision-making

The goal of the project, which also is being implemented in Gabon and the Central African Republic, "is to ensure that the forest communities, the authorities and civil society in each of the three countries have the capacity and resources to accurately map the occupation and use of the forests and provide data to help decision-making relating to forests and forest communities," said project co-ordinator Georges Thierry Handja.

"We began making maps which show where we grow things, where we hunt, fish and gather - everything which allows us to live from day to day," said Denis Bongo, village headman in Assengue, Ollombo District. People in Assengue get most of their food from the forest, including cassava, meat and fish. Cassava leaves, sold in the markets at Ollombo and the ROC capital, Brazzaville, bring in much-needed income. "With the ongoing exploitation of the forest, we have in the maps a bargaining tool [for] discussion [with logging companies] to help us [protect] what we hold most dear to us - our children," he explained.

"What is a plus, is that local people support the project and are themselves making the maps and registering their interest," said Joseph Moumbouilou, head of studies and projects in the ROC Ministry of Forest Economy. "In the process of planning the units of forest land that are to be exploited, we will henceforth use this data, which will allow the interests of local and autochthonous communities to be taken into account."

 

Master mappers in DRC

In 2008, a similar project in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo trained "Master Mappers" to help more than 500 villagers use GPS technology to map their forests. The RFUK trained 66 Congolese ‘Master Mappers’ who then travelled by canoe and motorbike to the remote Inongo territory in centre-west of the country to work with nearly 100 villages.

The project taught 660 villagers, who speak three different local languages and are mostly hunter-gatherers or subsistence farmers, to use high-tech GPS (Global Positioning System) devices to produce digital maps to prove their existence to the government and to loggers. Each community produced a sketch map of their area and then used the hand-held GPS units, to record accurately the important points on their maps. Once all the data from the field was collected, it was transferred from the GPS units to a computer to produce a map of the entire territory.

“It is going to be the first time that anybody in DRC sees on paper that these forest-dependent communities exist,” RFUK project director Cath Long said. “Their maps will be a vital tool for the communities to negotiate with the government. It will allow them to demonstrate that they are there, and that they need to be taken into account when decisions are made about the forest they live in.”

The goal of that project was to complete the digital territory map in time for a key government meeting that would establish how DRC’s vast forest was used. Parts of the territory had already been allocated to 11 logging concessions, some held by companies from as far afield as Germany, Belgium and Portugal.

 

This story was prepared from a number of sources: Congo villagers look to Copenhagen to save forest, by Thomas Hubert, Reuters, datelined Manga Dec 17, 2009; Congo-Brazzaville: Mapping Resources for Survival, IRIN News 23 September 2009; Putting communities on the map - DRC community mapping, Rainforest Foundation of the UKIndigenous peoples of Congo map their forests with GPS in an effort to save them, by Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com, April 13, 2008. The picture at the top right, showing villagers in the ROC Plateaux nord region, was taken by Laudes Martial Mbon/IRIN. The centre picture, showing the 2008 mapping in DRC, comes from the RFUK website. The picture at the bottom, showing Elisa Folo using the GPS, is an RFUK picture that accompanied the mongabay.com story cited above. 

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