- Communities can monitor illegal resource extraction in real-time as part of forest protection efforts. They will need to collaborate closely with government agencies on law enforcement, and to effectively takle the drivers of deforestation.
This ForestLink initiative developed and tested methods and technologies for community based, real time forest monitoring. It was carried out in the context of the RFUK Mapping for Rights project. The system aims at enabling communities anywhere in the world to capture and transmit accurately geo-referenced reports of forest illegalities to a central database in real-time, even from areas where there is no mobile phone or internet connectivity. In partnership with the local organisation Forêts et Développement Rurale (FODER) in Cameroon, a field test of the system was carried out in early 2015. Two communities were trained in the use of the reporting tablets, which use a simple, icon-based recording and transmitting system. Communities were also trained in identifying the different types of illegalities they would be observing and reporting during the exercise.
ForestLink is supported by satellite-based technologies, which help overcome the absence of data exchange networks in remote forest areas. Data is collected using Open Data Kit (ODK), coded for reduced data sizes through the Phyton programming language and transmitted to a satellite by the Raspberry Pi transmitter. Transmitted data is stored in a central geographical database. Once data reaches the database, it can be analysed by specialists and/or be retransmitted to local partners for verification.
During the testing period of the project in early 2015, 40 illegal incidents were reported, of which 20 were verified. Enforcement of verified illegalities was not planned in the current phase of the project, which aimed to test the system methodology and technologies. RFUK aims to use the technology tested in Cameroon for another community-based, real-time forest monitoring initiative in Peru. Ultimately, RFUK believes that the system has the potential to mobilise millions of community forest monitors.
The concept of community forests was first introduced in the Congo Basin in the 1994 Cameroon Forest Code, providing a legal basis for communities to manage their local forests. However, communities’ ability to apply for and manage their customary lands for their own wellbeing has been severely limited. The 1995 forest zoning plan designated most of the forest for industrial logging and strict conservation purposes; this left left only roadside areas (that were mostly degraded) up to a maximum of 5,000 hectares available for community forests, and only for a limited period of 25 years. The process of obtaining a Community Forest is very onerous and expensive, and can usually be managed only with external assistance or involvement of a member of the ‘elite’. As a consequence, many of the 200 or so community forests today resemble miniature logging concessions and are ill-adapted to existing customary systems of forest management and local governance.
Recently, the Government has committed to a number of policy processes in the forestry, mining and land management sectors that are expected to reform a system that has largely failed to bring significant development to the rural population, and has severely eroded community rights and livelihoods. Meanwhile, the forest area is now coming under intense pressure from new foreign investment in mining, agriculture and associated infrastructure development. In 2010, the government signed a VPA with the European Union, which is currently being implemented. (Source: http://www.mappingforrights.org/Cameroon)
Two communities have been trained by FODER to perform reporting. Data has been anonymised to protect the communities involved in the test. Therefore, much of the information related to the communities has not yet been made publicly available.
Data is collected by community members using tablets or smartphones compatible with the Android system using Open Data Kit (ODK). Observations aim at recording illegal cutting and log-marking, but also relate to illegal environmental destruction and failure of loggers to comply with their social obligations (see photographic examples below).
Though a bespoke app based on the Python programming language, the information is coded, aimed at reducing as much as possible the size of data. Data is then transmitted to a satellite using the Raspberry Pi transmitter. The information is transmitted to and stored at a Rockblock Server, a central geographical database where data can be accessed and analysed by experts and/or automatically re-broadcast for in-field verification of the reports. The incident reports can be searched for numerous variables, such as the name of company involved, type of infraction etc. Reported incidents appear in real time at the user’s interface.
Verification of reported incidents is done by the partner organization FODER. The verification stage allows for additional information to be collected relating to any reported incident; for instance on the approximate date whenthe incident occurred, whether it is an isolated or regular occurrence, any information on who was responsible, possible causes, observed impacts and for visual documentation (Source: http://monitor.mappingforrights.org).
Reported incidents, including the type of incident, location, descriptive text and photographic evidence, can be visualized at ForestLink’s website (map visualization requires registration).
After being reported and verified, information on the incident is ready to be sent on to enforcement agencies. This, however, has not yet been done by within the ForestLink initiative which, as stated above, was aimed at testing technologies and the methodology for future upscaling. Due to the testing nature of the initiative, Cameroonian enforcement authorities have not yet been involved in the project’s activities, but there are plans to build a partnership with them in upcoming phases of ForestLink.
Verification of data has been performed by the partner institution FODER, as descibed above.
Source of funding
The project was funded by a GBP 45,000 grant provided by the UK Government Department for International Development (DFID).