Social Innovation: GPS Technology Empowering Indigenous People of the Congo Basin

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Social Innovation: GPS Technology Empowering Indigenous People of the Congo Basin

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Using GPS to help the people in the Congo Basin preserve their forests & way of life: #Socinno #green @justmeans
Monday, April 2, 2012 - 8:30pm



GPS social innovation technology is helping indigenous people in the Congo Basin to map the land they live on and produce documents that can help preserve their access to the forest, which is essential to their way of living, which is under threat. The African rainforests of the Congo Basin are home to 40 million people; up to half a million people are hunter-gatherers also known as "pygmies" whose lives are intimately linked to the rainforest. Yet most have no legal rights to the land that has been their home for centuries, because their government can easily give the land to logging and mining companies, who then often prevent indigenous people from accessing the area.

Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) is one organisation that organises social innovation "community mapping" projects in the Congo Basin. It is spread across six countries, covering more than 1.3 million square miles, an area twice the size of Alaska with an expanse of rainforest second only in size to the Amazon. Georges Thierry Handja, at RFUK says, "In almost all of the Congo Basin official laws say the land belongs to the state. Our challenge is to support those people to be able challenge those laws. Hunter-gatherer communities suffer most from the situation because 80 to 90% of their livelihood comes from forest products to survive. When nothing is done ... you see a situation where communities start dying and the number of people in the communities diminishes throughout the years."

RFUK's social innovation program, "Mapping for Rights," trains forest people to map their land using GPS devices, marking the areas they use for activities such as hunting and fishing, and their sacred sites and the routes they use to access these key areas. The GPS information is then used to create a definitive map of the land used by these semi-nomadic communities, which can be used to challenge decisions, which try to exclude them from the forests.

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Sangeeta Haindl is a staff writer for Justmeans on Social Enterprise. When not writing for Justmeans, Sangeeta wears her other hat as a PR professional. Over the years, she has worked with high-profile organizations within the public, not-for-profit and corporate sectors; and won awards from her industry. She now runs her own UK consultancy: Serendipity PR & Media.