International workshop on community-based real-time forest monitoring takes place in Cameroon

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Since launching our community-based real-time monitoring (RTM) project in 2015, the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) has helped train dozens of community observers in rainforest communities across Cameroon, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Community observers are now sending increasing numbers of real-time alerts, and our partners are looking at how best to further develop the RTM project. Recently, 20 participants from all three countries came together for the first time to share lessons and discuss strategies for building on recent achievements.

Success stories were a central part of this meeting, allowing local partners to highlight aspects of the project that have shown the greatest results for local communities in each country.

Congolese partners GASHE engage in a joint forest inspection | Credit: GASHE

Congolese partners GASHE engage in a joint forest inspection | Credit: GASHE

For Congolese partner GASHE (Groupe d’Action pour Sauver l’Homme et son Environnement), the start of joint forest inspections with the government has been one of their biggest achievements, improving transparency and accountability. As GASHE’s RTM Coordinator, Joseph Bolongo explains: “Illegal loggers are no longer safe, even in the most remote areas. Official control is now happening and will get stronger and stronger.”

For Ghanaian partners, Friends of the Earth Ghana (FoE-Gh), one of the most promising aspects of the project so far has been that participating communities are much more aware of their rights and able to bring complaints directly to logging companies operating in their backyard. These communities are now much better equipped to negotiate fair agreements with companies in order to better protect their lands and livelihoods.

“Local observers are not only the eyes and ears of the forests, sending alerts, but also the ultimate beneficiaries – using the data they collect to defend their rights and making their voices heard,” said RFUK’s RTM Coordinator, Élodie Barralon.

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RFUK GIS Coordinator Peter Foster discusses the ForestLink technology with partners | Credit: Élodie Barralon

Project partners also identified some challenges and offered suggestions on how best to overcome them – such as how to deal with limited smartphone battery life or the capacity of solar chargers under the forest canopy.

Other participants, such as our Cameroonian partners FODER (Forêts et Développement Rural), addressed the challenges of keeping up with an increasing number of alerts being sent from the forest. Indeed, one of the biggest successes of the RTM project so far has also led to one of the biggest challenges: with an increasing volume of alerts on illegalities being received from trained community observers, finding the resources to verify and follow up on these can be difficult.

“We found some very valuable solutions by listening to the experiences of fellow partners. Especially with regards to the challenges of verifying real-time alerts on the ground,” said Christiane Zebaze Hellow, FODER’s RTM Coordinator. “Now, looking forward at the future of RTM, our vision is to roll out the project to new communities and to train more community observers.”

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FODER’s RTM Coordinator Christiane shares challenges and successes from Cameroon | Credit: Élodie Barralon

As RTM develops in the coming months and years, many of the lessons and best practices shared between partners will be valuable in adapting and scaling up the project to best suit different contexts across Africa. This will be done in part through a ‘Community of Best Practices’ on locally-driven forest monitoring.

“This is an exciting time for ForestLink,” said RFUK’s Élodie Barralon. “As we’ve seen from our partners, the results so far have been very encouraging, and the different applications of the technology are endless. We really believe that over time this system will be a game-changer for forest communities around the world.”

**Learn more about real-time monitoring by watching our new video on Youtube (available in English/French and Spanish).