In 2014 TBI Suriname started working with the Association of Saamaka Authorities and with 24 Saamaka communities, comprising about 12,000 inhabitants, in the Upper Suriname River area. The goal was to support a land-use planning project that aimed to give the local community a stronger voice in decision-making with regard to spatial planning. From 2014 to 2016, TBI Suriname worked with community members, using participatory three-dimensional modelling (P3DM) to assess the state of ecosystem services and discussing visions for future development of the area.
TBI facilitated focus group discussions with community members. Topics included socio-economic factors and visions about how the area should develop in the future. The development of road infrastructure, commercial logging and collective land rights sparked lively discussions.
Participants also discussed the importance of various ecosystem services, past use of these services, and current changes in their use. Overall, community members considered the provision of food crops and drinking water to be the most important services. Other ecosystem services included the provision of timber, fish, game, plant material for making household items, firewood, oil from palm fruits, medicinal plants, liana and leaves as thatching material, and sand and gravel for construction purposes. Many people also indicated the importance of an ancestral bond with the land they live on and use.
The P3DM exercise also facilitated discussions about how different groups perceive land use. The men travel far from the village for hunting and logging, and have more knowledge of areas with primary forest; the women have more knowledge of agriculture plots and palm fruit resources closer to the village.
Many of the ecosystem services appear to be less available than in the past, for reasons that vary from loss of traditional knowledge (due to migration during the civil war from 1986 to 1992), more intensive harvesting techniques of ecosystem products, greater awareness of the commercial value of certain ecosystem services, and the increasing influence of the wage economy on traditional lifestyles.
Changes in the use of ecosystem products are also due to the establishment of mini-markets. These make it more attractive for local people to purchase products instead of harvesting and processing comparable items themselves, which involves laborious effort. This change in use varied depending on how close a store was to a village.
TBI Suriname verified the information obtained during the assessment of ecosystem services by conducting transect walks. In addition, the P3DM map created by the participants was used to facilitate discussions on whether important ecosystem services were abundant, stable or degraded. The information collected on ecosystem services also supported discussions on community perceptions of future development of their area and the impacts of various land-use activities.
The participatory process has received positive responses from participants. It stresses the need for inclusive, participatory initiatives in decision-making in productive landscapes. TBI Suriname is now preparing recommendations for policy makers on topics such as land rights, participatory land-use planning, traditional knowledge and capacity strengthening (for both local people and government officials), and how these relate to traditional land use and lifestyles.
At an event in Paramaribo in 2016, community members presented the map and associated information to policy makers. They asked for formal recognition by the government of the map and for acknowledgement of traditional activities of the Saamaka shown on the map.