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Reuters, USFS to map land rights in West Africa

Washington, US: The US Forest Service (USFS) partnered with Thomson Reuters to map and document land rights in West Africa as part of an effort to promote sustainable use of natural resources, protect the environment, and create a source of income for the rural poor in the threatened Upper Guinean Tropical Forest.

The Forest Service is implementing the Sustainable and Thriving Environments for West African Regional Development (STEWARD) programme to strengthen natural resource management, climate change adaptation, and environmental education in the trans-boundary-protected areas of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and Ivory Coast, all of which contain portions of this tropical forest ecosystem.

The programme, now in its third phase, is funded by the US Agency for International Development.

“Thomson Reuters is honored to work with the U.S. Forest Service to support this important initiative,” said Peter Rabley, vice president of global business development in the Tax & Accounting business of Thomson Reuters. “Documenting property rights is crucial to the long-term protection of one of the world’s most important ecosystems and to create a livelihood and source of income for these countries’ poorest residents.”

As a partner in STEWARD Phase III, Thomson Reuters will train three West African communities to document and map land and resource rights, utilising the company’s OpenTitle software. The information collected will be sent to a GIS center to be created under the direction of Thomson Reuters at the STEWARD office in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

The GIS center will integrate the STEWARD data with geographic information on company lease rights, public lands, natural resources, species mapping, and other content. With this repository, decision-makers can analyse the area’s often-overlapping “rights fabric” in order to better manage natural resources, including the tropical forests, and address rural poverty.

The Upper Guinean Tropical Forest is one of eight major biomes in West Africa and originally covered an estimated 1.3 million kilometers across Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Togo. The forest sustains approximately one quarter of all plant species on the planet, but its biodiversity is threatened by unsustainable land use practices.

Most of the land in the area is undocumented with no record of formal ownership, and the region lacks well-functioning land management systems that provide clear publicly accessible records to property rights. Without clear documentation to their property rights, residents don’t fully have the ability to secure the land for themselves and their descendants. Historically, these residents then fail to responsibly manage community owned land, which ultimately leads to the over exploitation of shared natural resources.

Source: Market Watch