This project empowers local forest communities to use cutting edge technologies to map their lands and resources and use this evidence as advocacy and negotiation tools for more secure land tenure. Through this, it also serves as an effective tool to contribute to environmental protection and poverty reduction efforts.
In the Congo basin, the argument that forest communities’ practices are destructive of the environment is used as a political strategy to pave the way for the use of their lands for large scale industrial logging, mining and other economic initiatives. In the national legislation of Congo basin countries, the State effectively owns all forest land. Local communities, despite the important role the have played for centuries in forest conservation, have little more than user rights to their land and resources. Mapping of lands by States takes place on a macro level, often ignoring the customary use and needs of forest communities at the expense of large economic interests.
Over the past three decades participatory mapping practices have emerged as an alternative to empower marginalised groups and those traditionally excluded from decision-making processes. Since 2000, the Rainforest Foundation UK and its local partners have been supporting forest-dependent communities in the Congo Basin region to produce accurate, geo-referenced community maps of their territories and to use these maps to advocate for the recognition of their rights to manage and protect forest lands. RFUK has produced over 100 maps, trained over 500 people (GIS technicians and mappers from NGOs, government and forest communities) in 5 countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo) and has directly benefited more than 18,000 people in forest areas. The work of exchange and dialogue supported by participatory maps is mobilizing the interest of a broad range of partners (communities, NGOs, policy makers and international partners), and promoting legal and policy changes for the benefit of forest communities at various levels. At this stage, it is essential that this work is able to continue in order to ensure that the changes that are on the horizon actually begin to bear fruit.