Carol Murphy and Sandra Slater-Jones describe a GIS mapping procedure in which local people, and not outsiders, are the experts.
In Kasika conservancy, on the East Chobe floodplain in northeastern Namibia, local people are using GIS to produce detailed, coloured maps showing the location of wildlife areas and livelihood resources. Prior to the introduction of the GIS-based community land use mapping system, they used hand-drawn maps that were undecipherable to outsiders, and thus hindered opportunities for local tourism development and new livelihood activities.
ICTs and community involvement are not new to Namibia’s Conservancy Programme, which is internationally recognised for granting local communities conditional rights to use and benefit from their wildlife and other resources. The programme already supports a vibrant mapping and natural resource information unit in Windhoek, and maintains a web-based information system called ‘Conservancy Information’. Data (spatial and otherwise) are updated centrally and can then be accessed and used in farflung regions of the country.
Participatory maps are not new either. What is new is that this mapping procedure is being used to upgrade hand-drawn maps by geo-referencing the map data. The procedure involves village mapping workshops and careful recording to capture indigenous knowledge with regard to local area names, the spatial location of resources such as grazing, cropping and useful plant species, as well as wildlife sightings and movements.
Village mapping workshops
At these workshops, local people are asked to draw a map of the area on the ground, and then to copy it onto paper. Data from the map are then painstakingly located on a specially prepared orthophoto base map marked with previously recorded GPS point data (e.g. schools, shops, water pumps, etc.) to provide orientation. Depending on the size of the area, a number of workshops are held to build up the picture of the whole area in mosaic fashion. Back in the office, tracing paper overlays are made from the base maps and these are digitized on screen for the final map production. Initially this was done centrally by GIS experts in Windhoek, but through on-the-job training, local GIS expertise has been developed in the region.
The different overlays are then superimposed to produce a composite map showing land use patterns, including areas reserved for tourism and wildlife, grazing, forestry and trophy hunting. Icons (e.g. pictures of animals indicating wildlife sightings) and colours are used as much as possible in the final GIS maps to make them accessible to people with low levels of literacy. The conservancy’s logos are added to enhance ownership. Then, conservancy members check the maps for accuracy and comprehensiveness before final copies are printed, covered in plastic and distributed.
Conservancy committee members are using these maps to assist in planning and management of their common property natural resources, including planning of tourism activities (e.g. trophy hunting and rental agreements with private lodges), establishing wildlife corridors to allow the migration of animals such as elephant and buffalo, and for co-management with government authorities in the case of national park residents. Maps have also been lodged with local authorities to establish communal tenure rights to tourism sites.
‘Reading the landscape’
So far, four conservancies have been mapped and the procedure has been captured in a guideline document, ‘Standard Operating Procedure’, and in reports of case studies undertaken in pilot areas. In addition, in an exciting collaborative exercise, 3000 San (Bushmen) residents and the park authorities are currently mapping the Bwabwata National Park in West Caprivi. Residents of the park use natural drainage features known as pans to ‘read the landscape’, or orientate themselves. With technical assistance from NGOs, local people (especially the elderly) are recording the locations, names and status of over 180 pans within the Park’s core wildlife areas as well as the multi-use areas. The results of the efforts to capture information about the residents’ livelihood resources over the next six months will be used to support comanagement with the park authorities and entrench the residents’ resource access and ancestral rights. The procedure is also helping to build better relationships between the two sides.
This procedure ensures that local people become the mapping experts and not outsiders. Although the accuracy of the point data is confirmed by GPS, the land use patterns themselves are not ground-truthed as there is no real need, and no resources to do so. These maps embrace the participatory learning action principles of ‘optimal ignorance’ and ‘appropriate imprecision’. They also serve the purpose for which they were intended, i.e. an appropriate geographic information technology to enable marginalised groups to communicate the spatial distribution of their natural resources and to benefit from their sustainable use. One of the main challenges ahead will be to ensure that the local people develop their new GIS skills, so that they can produce their own tailor-made maps.
Carol Murphy ( email@example.com ) works for Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), an NGO that promotes conservation and development within the Namibian communal area conservancies.
Sandra Slater-Jones ( firstname.lastname@example.org )is a sociologist and consultant for Conservation International.
For further information, visit www.irdnc.org.na .