Mapping, monitoring and management of forest corridors: a partnership between local forest owners, the Jane Goodall Institute and Global Forest Watch
- The Budonga and Bugoma Forest Reserves of Western Uganda offer some protection to endangered populations of chimpanzees; however, the populations’ best hope for long term survival depends on successful movement between the reserves. Work with landowners to reduce high levels of deforestation in these forest corridors has proved critical.
- The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) supports local land management in various ways, including land use monitoring. Their work not only improves livelihoods and protects wildlife habitat, it also puts the communities in a better position to take part in a REDD+ programme, being developed to cover the wider landscape around the Budonga and Bugoma Forest Reserves.
- JGI in Uganda drew on and adapted its experiences using Android smartphones, tablets and the Open Data Kit (ODK) app for monitoring in Tanzania. This shaped its work with local communities, landowners' associations, rangers and the Global Forest Watch (GFW) platform to develop a new app, called Forest Watcher, regionally launched in April 2016. This should enable local stakeholders to access the latest data on changes in forest cover, verify this on the ground, upload more information, and take timely action.
- The monitoring project has successfully identified and discouraged illegal activities. It has also surveyed local wildlife, including chimpanzees.
JGI is working with around 1 800 local landowners in Western Uganda to reduce deforestation, promote sustainable livelihoods, train forest monitors, and prepare local communities to benefit from REDD+.
The total chimpanzee population in Uganda is around 5 000, and 1 200 of these live in the Budongo and Bugoma Forest Reserves. In order to maintain gene flow cross the 40km distance between these reserves, chimpanzees have to sucessfully use forest corridors to cross land that is predominantly privately and communally owned, and dotted with the occasional much smaller reserve. Landowners increasingly clear these forest corridors for commercial and subsistence agriculture, driven by poverty, lack of clear legislation, timber scarcity and rising populations. As well as impacting on wildlife, forest fragmentation puts local watersheds and soil quality at risk, while reducing carbon sequestration.
Communities around the Budongo and Bugoma Forest Reserves are participating in an initiative that combines community-based forest monitoring with JGI’s ‘community-centred conservation’ approach (which aims to conserve biodiversity while addressing human needs).
JGI began using digital technology for community-based monitoring in 2009, in Tanzania. A partnership with Google Earth Outreach enabled villagers and rangers to use Android smartphones, tablets and ODK to monitor wildlife and threats to wildlife and forests. JGI has since been extended its use of ODK to projects and partners in Uganda, DRC and Congo. These all engaged local stakeholders and decision-makers in improved natural resource management; and addressed the lack of accurate, up-to-date information, which had held back efforts to track and prevent deforestation, or to develop effective conservation strategies.
In Uganda, JGI has worked with the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and local communities for 20 years. In 2010 the institute began using the ODK app and mobile technologies, first to enable forest owners to map their forest and land tenure, and since 2014 for forest and wildlife monitoring. Local people have been impressed by the ability of satellite imagery to detect deforestation, which has piqued their enthusiasm for using mobile technologies as tools and for accessing and creating data for their own communities.
Most recently, a partnership including JGI, the World Resources Institute (WRI, which manages the GFW platform) and communities in Western Uganda has piloted the new Forest Watcher app. This builds on ODK, and is designed to link people with limited internet connectivity to the GFW platform, so they can access forest loss alerts and upload their own data. The new app was regionally launched in Kampala in April 2016.
The people, forests and wildlife of Uganda face severe pressures. Between 1990 and 2010, Uganda lost 37% of its forest cover, or around 1.8 million hectares, while the national population almost doubled. Deforestation is driven by the escalating demand for agricultural land and timber, in an economy that is largely agrarian, but with low agricultural productivity. Data from GFW shows that the 90 000ha area of the upper Kafu River basin, which contains both reserves, lost more than 17 000ha of forest between 2001 and 2013.
The national policy framework appears favourable for sustainable forest management and monitoring. The Ugandan Intended Nationally Determined Contribution points out that the country contributes less than 0.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but is very vulnerable to climate change. Its goals include increasing forest cover from 14% in 2013 to 21% in 2030, improving forest governance, agroforestry and re-establishing wildlife corridors – all dependent on external support. This complements earlier policies, such as the 2001 National Forestry Policy. In 2015 Uganda reported steady progress on its REDD readiness work, including consulting on its draft national REDD+ strategy.
Unfortunately, the reality at ground level does not reflect the encouraging policy environment. A REDD+ feasibility study for the Budongo and Bugoma areas explains that the implementation of regulations is slow. For example, to clear fell a large area of privately owned forest, a landowner must legally obtain a license, but, as of 2010, not one privately owned forest in Uganda was registered with the relevant authorities. Land tenure is often unclear, determined by traditional, inherited ownership rather than official land titles.
JGI's REDD+ work contributes to the thirty year Murchison-Semliki Landscape REDD+ project, which is being developed by a consortium led by WCS-Uganda. This aims to reduce deforestation across this landscape, which includes the Budongo and Bugoma reserves.
JGI’s ‘community-centred conservation’ approach recognises the need to improve local standards of living, build capacity and empower communities to implement sustainable solutions to conservation problems. This approach means that the communities around Budongo and Bugoma Forest Reserves are central to JGI’s efforts to protect the area’s chimpanzees. From 2010-2013, JGI ran a sustainable livelihoods project, which reached 700 households by providing training and support for reforestation and alternative, sustainable income generation. The aim is to create positive incentives to encourage local landowners to conserve, monitor and replenish forests.
With JGI’s assistance, more than 1 800 forest owners have mapped their forest locations and organised themselves into 16 Private Forest Owners’ Associations (PFOAs). PFOA members commit not to clear the forest. Their associations are formally registered and have democratically-elected leaders – and are better able to manage resources collectively. JGI provides access to mobile technologies, training (including on forest management and governance), and helped all 16 PFOAs to develop Forest Management Plans for their respective areas. These aim to ensure that land use and land use changes have minimal impact on the forests and the wider environment.
The Ugandan forest owners are always keen to learn and use new technologies, as tools to better manage their forests. For example, in 2014, one of the forest owners cleared an area of his forest that triggered an alert through Forest Monitoring for Action (FORMA) on the GFW platform. When local forest monitors went to verify it, they were impressed to find that the alert had indeed been accurate.
The PFOAs selected forest monitors who were willing to volunteer to be trained by JGI to patrol their forests on behalf of their communities. These community monitors are unpaid, but receive lunch and transport; JGI recently provided 15 motorcycles to facilitate their work. They are encouraged to patrol at least ten days per month, however, in reality this is not always feasible and communities monitor when they have time. JGI also supports NFA rangers to patrol Budongo and Bugoma Forest Reserves.
While carrying out the monitoring activities, the monitors take the opportunity to encourage private forest owners to take up conservation farming techniques, engage with village saving schemes, and avoid illegal logging and charcoal production.
The support for PFOAs and monitoring feeds into the Murchison-Semliki Landscape REDD+ project in various ways. The partners in the REDD+ consortium continuously engage local authorities to ensure that private forest owners obtain the certificates of land registration that mean they can potentially have legal ownership of the carbon in the forests. A process of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) in all villages helped minimise conflicts and identify risks – the communities themselves suggested strategies to minimise these. JGI provides training in carbon and biomass monitoring, as well as supporting the REDD+ feasibility study. This helps create the necessary conditions for carbon-based payments from REDD+, and potentially other payments for ecosystem services.
Since the start of the build up towards the launch of the Forest Watcher app in 2016, the monitoring work in Uganda has focused on enabling local landowners and decision-makers to collect and access timely and accurate data on forest cover and threats to wildlife. This is essential if PFOAs, JGI and other stakeholders are to take informed decisions on land use and conservation; it also provides a basis for REDD+ payments.
The Forest Watcher app in Uganda, as with JGI’s work elsewhere in Africa, is used to combine small-scale but widespread community forest monitoring with large-scale satellite imagery, to empower local stakeholders to be more effective in their forest monitoring efforts and to improve local conservation decisions. Using the Forest Watcher app, the monitors are able to know where recent deforestation took place and go to the exact location, to verify the land use and decide on appropriate measures or actions to take. The action is usually to engage the deforester, and report to the executive committee of the PFOA or the NFA.
The monitors collect data using three forms: a Socio-Economic REDD+ form, a Crop Raiding form, and an Illegal Activity and Wildlife form. The indicators are listed under the tabs above. The field data can be extracted from these forms for various analyses. For example, the chimpanzee presence data is fed into a Decision Support System that integrates the communities’ data with ecological models and satellite imagery from NASA and University of Maryland, to produce a model showing the suitability of current habitat for chimpanzees, and predicting future land use change. This will inform an annual chimpanzee habitat health map, to develop strategies, monitor threats and measure conservation success using the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation.
JGI’s use of mobile and cloud technologies for community-based forest monitoring began in 2009 in Tanzania and in 2010 in Uganda. In partnership with Google Earth Outreach, JGI developed a simple, practical mapping and monitoring platform to support the collection of field data in remote places with only occasional access to the internet. The platform uses Android smartphones and tablets, ODK and Google API to collect, store, manage, export and use community forest monitoring data. Recently ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Online technologies were added to the platform to support automatic data cleaning, spatial analysis and visualise community data in web dashboards in near-real time.
In 2014, JGI in Uganda began working with GFW to develop and test the new Forest Watcher app for Android smartphones and tablets. GFW was chosen as its platform provides access to a wide range of information on deforestation from various sources. For example, the FORMA deforestation alert is updated on the site every 16 days. The Forest Watcher app was field tested by forest monitors and forest owners within the Budongo – Bugoma chimpanzee corridor, as well as rangers and NFA staff in four forest reserves and a national park.
In April 2016, JGI in Uganda launched the Forest Watcher app in the region, in partnership with GFW, WRI, Google Earth Outreach, and the NFA. The aim is for local monitors and decision-makers not only to access the GFW platform, but to interact with it. The app enables anyone with limited internet connectivity to find GFW alerts in their forests and upload data, photos and observations from monitoring in the field.
The monitoring data is processed by a local forest manager, and stored, managed and visualised using Google cloud and web mapping tools, or exported by JGI and NFA GIS staff for further analysis in Esri’s ArcGIS software. JGI provide power backups and transport to places with internet accessibility.
Occasionally, JGI also uses UAVs (drones) to survey chimpanzee nests, complement high resolution satellite imagery, and to gain a more detailed understanding of habitat change and human land uses that impact chimpanzees.
Achievements and challenges
JGI in Uganda succesfully drew on monitoring experiences from other African countries, in particular, Tanzania, where community forest monitoring began in 2005, in support of USAID Greater Gombe Ecosystem project and later Tanzania’s National REDD+ Strategy. JGI has adapted these experiences with simplified technology and a stronger presence to provide technical, travel and financial support. As of 2016, JGI has similar community-based monitoring initiatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo (Brazzaville) and Senegal, as well as Uganda.
The data that villagers and rangers collect has already had local impact. It has helped identify hotspots of illegal activities, and these areas have been targeted by increased patrols. The data has also been used to implement village land use plans, to manage forests, and to support chimpanzee surveys and habitat modelling (including presence and movement across the landscape).
The sustainability of the initiative faces challenges, especially given the cost of the technology it uses. This reflects similar challenges to JGI’s community-based forest monitoring and management initiative in Tanzania, which suffered setbacks after initial funding ran out. JGI believe that without their presence and provision of resources and transport, community-based forest monitoring in the Budongo and Bugoma landscape would cease. However, JGI suggest that the NFA could have the capacity to eventually take on responsibility for maintaining and developing the programme, so they are currently working with NFA to integrate the GFW platform, Forest Watcher app and ODK into their monitoring systems and operations.
The reforestation work, restoration of wildlife corridors, and improved governance all feed into the Murchiston-Semliki Landscape REDD+ project. The project consortium is in discussions with oil companies operating in the region that may be interested in making payments for carbon storage to forest owners. One such company expressed willingness to make payments for the carbon farmers sequestered in their forests. Being part of this larger REDD+ initative has the potential to increase the sustainability of community forest monitoring efforts. The monitoring work and JGI’s overall approach thus align with Uganda’s forest policies, support national objectives for REDD+ readiness, and could improve implementation of these on the ground.