How do you decide the location and boundaries for a new nature reserve? How will new palm oil plantations impact nearby forest dwellers? How can local forest communities best secure their land and improve their livelihoods sustainably?
To answer these types of questions, which are especially important in rainforests such as Africa’s Congo Basin, we need reliable maps and other information that reflect the realities of local people on the ground.
Too often, in the absence of such information, human rights are overlooked and eroded. This has long been the case in the Congo Basin, as big projects – from logging concessions to industrial-scale plantations to conservation areas – are created in a top-down manner without consideration for their impact on already powerless communities.
This is where RFUK’s award-winning MappingForRights initiative comes in. By creating highly detailed maps of community land and resource use in the rainforest – and by taking into account the rights that these maps reveal – governments, companies and non-profits have at their disposal the means to make smarter decisions and achieve more sustainable outcomes.
Since MappingForRights was formally launched in 2011 more than a thousand Central African communities have mapped over seven million hectares of rainforest – an area nearly the size of Scotland.
These maps are beginning to transform the way we view Africa’s rainforests, changing our perception of them as empty wildernesses to seeing them as landscapes shaped over generations (even millennia) by traditional populations.
In this new series of information briefs we will explore how community mapping tools can inform decision-making in the region, offering concrete recommendations on how to reform laws and policies related to extractive industries, nature conservation, carbon schemes and more.
In the first of these briefs, we will look at the case of Mai Ndombe province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), host to the world’s largest jurisdictional programme to reduce deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). The insights gained from MappingForRights data will help show why a change of course is urgently needed – one that puts forest peoples’ rights front and centre of efforts to reduce deforestation.