GPS Empowering Villagers In Fight To Conserve Rainforest

As rainforest destruction worldwide is continuing unabated, local communities are responding to rapid deforestation of their lands by turning to technologies such as GPS and Google Earth in an effort to protect and preserve their territory from logging companies. One such initiative organized by the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) in the Democratic Republic of Congo this past week instructed a gathering of over 500 villagers who will use GPS to mark main areas in the rainforest, including their villages, places of worship, fishing and hunting areas.Sixty-six ‘Master Mappers’ were also trained to assist villagers in mapping out their lands via motorbike and canoe. With the world’s second-largest rainforest, the aim of the mapping project is to give locals a greater voice in government conservation policies. In the DRC, local forest communities have long been caught in the middle between logging companies and the political re-stabilization of their government after two fierce civil wars, which killed and displaced millions of people as the armies and militias exploited the rainforest unchecked.

"There is a rush for the trees," according to Rene Ngongo of the Organisation Concertée des Ecologistes et Amis de la Nature (OCEAN), a local NGO working with RFUK. "What is at stake is enormous. Two-thirds of the people in Congo depend on this forest to provide food, medicines and building materials. It is critical for the survival of the people and animals."

Cath Long, project director of the RFUK, emphasized the significance of this undertaking. "It is going to be the first time that anybody in DRC sees on paper that these forest-dependent communities exist. Their maps will be a vital tool for the communities to negotiate with the government. It will allow them to demonstrate that they are there, and that they need to be taken into account when decisions are made about the forest they live in."

RFUK Director Simon Counsell adds that the efforts to preserve Congolese rainforests fits into a larger, global picture of conservation. "This is an issue that affects us all because not only are rainforests home to an estimated 50 million indigenous forest peoples and more species of plants and animals than all the earth's other ecosystems combined, but also because protecting the forests is essential in the fight against climate change."

See also ::Using GPS to Track Global Warming

Image: RFUK

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