Tropical forests are essential to our climate and biodiversity, but are under threat from overexploitation and raw material extraction. Indigenous communities are essential to the conservation of the forests. However, there was no good way to communicate with the local population about their environment and the effects of overexploitation. PhD candidate Sara Ramírez Gómez of Utrecht University worked with the indigenous communities to draw up three-dimensional maps of their living environment, thus creating a basic tool for communicating with the outside world. Ms Ramírez Gómez defended her doctoral thesis in the University Hall of Utrecht University on 27 September 2019.
Imagine a caravan of bulldozers driving through your back garden on an ordinary day. They flatten your apple and birch trees as they make their way to your neighbours' garden. Then, your garden is fenced off and marked as agricultural land, and in no time your backyard becomes a pasture where other people’s cattle graze.
Disastrous for living environment and biodiversity
This is what is happening to indigenous communities in tropical forests in South America and elsewhere. Without any form of consultation, the government grants concessions on their land. The government builds roads, allows large areas of forest to be cut down and hectares of land to be converted into agricultural land. As well as being an invasion of the indigenous population’s living environment, this is disastrous for the biodiversity and carbon stocks of the tropical forests, and thus an attack on the global climate.
Centuries of sustainable management
The indigenous communities are the most knowledgeable about their living environment. They have been managing the forests sustainably for centuries. But there is no communication between them and government authorities, because the right means of communication are lacking. Sara Ramírez Gómez, who hails from Colombia herself, consulted with indigenous communities in the Colombian Amazon and in Suriname. She worked with the inhabitants to develop basic tools for communicating with the outside world.
Learning to share valuable knowledge
“An inhabitant of an indigenous community would not be able to point out on a map where he or she lives,” explains Sara Ramírez Gómez of Utrecht University. She spoke to over 1,000 members of indigenous communities and organised workshops to teach them how to share their valuable knowledge. “What they do know is where, and how the river runs, and how far away it is from their village. They also know in which parts of the forest edible plants can be found and where the most game can be caught. Together with the communities, I started to map out what their environment looks like.”
A three-dimensional, physical model
“But the tribes are not familiar with two-dimensional maps,” Ramírez Gómez continues. “Their living environment is not flat, but has differences in altitude. A river is low-lying and the surrounding land is higher. I discovered that they could clearly show the effects of the external pressures on their environment on a three-dimensional physical model. And they could also indicate which are valuable areas that should be left alone. This is beneficial not only to the indigenous communities themselves, but also to the global climate and biodiversity.”
Read more: Upper Suriname River communities develop three-dimensional participatory map
In Suriname, the work Ramírez Gómez carried out with the indigenous population has led to the proclamation of a large indigenous area, the South Suriname Conservation Corridor. But, of course, there is a chance that local or national authorities will not be interested in engaging with indigenous communities. In that case, Ramírez Gómez's tools offer a means of communication to the rest of the world. “And the problems are not unique to the tropical forests of South America. We see exactly the same things happening in Borneo, for example. I hope that the results of my research can be used throughout the world,” she concludes.
Sara Ramirez conducted part of her research as part of the TBI programme developed in Suriname.
Original article published on Utrecht University, source link: https://www.uu.nl/en/news/three-dimensional-map-improves-communication-with-indigenous-communities