New community mapping innovations could have far reaching implications for forest governance in the Congo Basin

A new participatory mapping approach developed by the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) and NGOs in DRC (RRN, GASHE, CADEM) and Cameroon (FODER) is revealing a previously ‘invisible’ extensive network of clan-based customary tenure systems in Western DRC – with potentially far-reaching implications for the current model of forest management in the region.

MFR Uddate 2.2 Photo

The new data, collected by communities using simple tablet computers, shows that these rights are generally very well defined and accepted in local areas, despite their absence in national laws and forest planning processes (click on ‘Community Land Tenure’ in the ‘Community Mapping’ menu). The emerging scale of these claims[1] and the ease with which the data can now be captured, accessed and analysed on the MappingForRights platform could transform the way that future decisions and land allocations are made. It can be used for purposes such as helping to plan or develop future REDD projects, and ensuring proper distribution of benefits from forest management.

In addition, geo-referenced data collected by communities themselves on issues such as access to healthcare and education is now available to view on the interactive map (Click on ‘Communities mapped 2013-14’ on the menu and then on the villages on the map). Among other things, the data can enable closer examination of the supposed developmental benefits from large-scale industrial logging, strict nature conservation or REDD projects, and could provide a basis for any future community forest interventions in these rural areas.

One practical example of how this is already being put to good use is where local communities from the Lukolela territory in Equateur province have presented their maps in landmark meetings with national authorities over the controversial Tumba-Lediima Reserve. This has prompted the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to agree to reconsider the status and management of the reserve to better take into account their traditional lands and rights.

New mapping and other data from 32 villages with a combined population of some 56,000 people and covering 209,000 hectares has now been uploaded to the interactive map. Please log-in for the interactive map and then click on the orange new data button below the legend on the map to view this.

This is the first new data available as part of an effort to map up to five million hectares by 2017 in what is the largest mapping exercise of its kind in Africa. This is being achieved by a new decentralised approach to mapping where communities are supported by field-based mapping facilitators and GIS technicians to produce maps and collect data at significantly reduced cost and timescales than previously possible.

[1] The data from Bandundu and Equateur provinces shows that there a very few forest areas “unclaimed” by local communities.