Cameroon & DRC: Community mapping captures human realities

Excerpt from DGroups network: "...Using modern mapping techniques, satellite images have been used for forest zoning in Cameroon to determine conservation areas and regions to be opened up for industrial exploitation. These areas are all seemingly devoid of human habitation as the satellite imaging fails to register such low level human activity deep in the forest. Meanwhile areas for community use are allocated alongside roadsides, which are already under intense competition for agriculture and agroforestry. Conflict has been inevitable as Baka pygmy communities have failed to benefit, with customary land rights not recognised and their traditional fallows destroyed...Revealing the reality: But the Baka people are beginning to appear on the map. Through work with the Rainforest Foundation and its local partner organisation, the Centre for Environment and Development in Yaounde, local people have been trained up as cartographers. These community mappers have begun to work with their people to define significant areas, including hunting grounds, areas for gathering specific forest products, fishing and sacred sites. It is hoped that these maps will reveal the true value of the forests and that the 'official' zoning maps and plans for logging concessions can be modified to take into account the reality of the livelihoods of Baka forest people as well as Bantu farming communities...The DRC is about to undergo its own forestry zoning exercise, sponsored by the World Bank. "This presents a threat, because the Government's process might simply repeat the mistakes of forest zoning in other countries, such as Cameroon, where forest communities have disappeared off the map. But it can also be a real window of opportunity," says Simon Counsell, Director of the Rainforest Foundation, who believes that community mapping in DRC would allow traditional land claims to be recognised as the national forest zoning plan is developed. "The process is not difficult," he continues. "Although the communities we are working with are largely illiterate and innumerate, they are still quite capable of grasping the principles of mapping and of understanding some of the fairly advanced technologies that are being used in the process..."

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