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Native Africans learn mapping to claim land rights

Congo: With an aim to provide legal rights of the land to hundreds of thousands of indigenous people of Africa’s Congo Basin, groups like Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) and Cameroon’s Centre for Environment and Development (CED) rolled out “community mapping” projects.

Central Africa’s Congo Basin is spread across six countries and covering more than 1.3 million square miles — an area twice the size of Alaska — the Congo Basin includes an expanse of rainforest second only in size to the Amazon.

RFUK’s “Mapping for Rights” programme aims to train the local people to map their land using GPS devices, marking the areas they use for activities such as hunting and fishing — as well as their sacred sites — and the routes they use to access these vital areas. The GPS information is used to create a definitive map of the land used by these semi-nomadic communities, which can be used to challenge decisions that see them excluded from areas of forest.

Georges Thierry Handja of the RFUK, explained, “The map is not an end, it’s the beginning of the process. Once the indigenous people have the map we must support them to have discussions, negotiations with the decision makers.” He added that if, for example, an area of rainforest has been earmarked for a palm oil plantation, the aim is to arrange discussions between the palm oil company, the government and the communities that live there, to ensure the needs of the community are considered. The maps provide objective evidence that people rely on the land, and that continued access to it is essential for them.

Similarly, the CED has been running community mapping projects for 10 years. Like RFUK, it trains forest communities to map their land using GPS technology. In 2007 and 2008 CED partnered with the Forest Peoples Program to map rainforest used by the Baka hunter-gatherer people near the new Boumba Bek National Park in Cameroon. The maps revealed that the Baka people traditionally collected honey, mangoes and medicinal plants from land that was now designated part of the national park.

The maps were presented to the WWF, which manages the park. As a result of the maps, and those produced by the WWF’s own community mapping projects, the WWF granted the local Baka people greater access to the national park.

Source: CNN