Mapping for community rights in the Congo Basin

Marena Brinkhurst
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Mar 31, 2021

Mapping for community rights in the Congo Basin

Marena Brinkhurst

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Mar 31, 2021

MappingForRights Congo Basin Community Atlas was built to document and defend the rights of the estimated 50 million indigenous and forest-dwelling peoples in the Congo Basin who lack rights and decision-making power over the lands they have inhabited for generations. 

By equipping rainforest communities with high performance mapping tools and methodology, the Rainforest Foundation UK and partners have used the MappingForRights platform to collect over a thousand maps covering more than nine million hectares. These maps have supported a landmark community forest law in DR Congo, innovative planning processes in Cameroon and eastern DRC, and DRC’s national moratorium on logging. The Atlas has also helped to expose the negative social impacts of exclusionary protected areas, helping to trigger a wave of international biodiversity conservation reforms. 

“The evidence is clear: Forests under the control of Indigenous Peoples and local communities deliver better social and environmental outcomes. Strengthening community forest management is a critical pathway to addressing the global climate and biodiversity emergencies.” – Joe Eisen, Rainforest Foundation UK

Building a modern geospatial portal

The latest version of the Community Atlas combines fast performance and intelligent UX design into a powerful and modern take on the classic data atlas. Users can analyze community data in relation to land uses such as logging activities, agricultural concessions, protected areas, and forest carbon projects, as well as information on forest cover, village locations, and areas served by state services.

Participatory mapping sessions in Maniema, DRC (Photo credit: GeoFirst)

The Atlas is a one-stop hub for up-to-date information on forest cover, land uses, and community management across the Congo Basin. The tool seamlessly pulls in data from multiple sources, combining Mapbox tilesets like national boundaries, custom data tilesets, and third-party APIs. With so many data layers to load, the Atlas also uses Mapproxy to accelerate loading of third-party legacy WMS services that haven't yet moved to Mapbox. An upgrade to Mapbox GL v2 also sped up the site load by 30%.

“We needed a platform that could work in countries with low bandwidth where we work with partners and policy makers. We chose Mapbox GL JS to use lightweight, fast-loading vector tilesets.” – Elin Roberts, Rainforest Foundation UK
Close-up of community data layers

Within the Community Atlas, the ‘Explore’ guides highlight areas of interest and impact stories to direct viewers who aren’t sure where to start. Users with particular analysis needs can also construct their own map view based on whichever data layers are most relevant for them – including their own uploaded data. A smooth drag-and-drop interface lets users change the ordering of active layers, adjust their transparency, and turn layers on or off.

Interactive legend allows users to turn layers on and of, adjust transparency, and reorder layers

The Atlas uses precise styling controls available through Mapbox Studio and GL JS to control how data layers display at various zoom levels to prevent the map view from getting cluttered and hard to understand.

“It's difficult to display so much point data in a meaningful way. Being able to control styling by zoom level was a key feature for us.” – Elin Roberts, Rainforest Foundation UK

Finally, the MappingForRights team recognized that their primary target audience for the Atlas is policymakers, community leaders, and those working with them. These users need an easy way to generate reports about the impact of land uses decisions on forest communities. Users of the Atlas can combine multiple data layers (such as deforestation rates, logging concessions, and community forests) and quickly prepare a report for export.

What's next for rights-based approaches to forest protection

Rainforest Foundation UK and partners are expanding the MappingForRights program to new areas to advocate for increased community management of forests. At the same time, they are using the data created by and with communities to craft compelling map stories to engage audiences of policy – building on the success of their first storytelling map that highlighted the risk of an effort to place 30 percent of the world under protected status by 2030. Finally, the MappingForRights team is further refining tools to bring data closer to the forest communities who produce it, including offline functionality that would enable greater local control over data management and use. 

“We have so far only mapped a fraction of what is needed.” – Joe Eisen, Rainforest Foundation UK 

Mapbox is proud to support the work of Rainforest Foundation UK and others working for the rights of forest peoples. The MappingForRights team welcomes inquiries from anyone interested in collaborating or using the Community Atlas platform.

Community members collecting livelihoods data, DRC (Photo credit: Rainforest Foundation UK)

The Mapbox Community team supports many partners working in solidarity with forest-dwelling peoples around the world. See our recent forest related stories with OpenForests and SilviaTerra.

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