200801001_4.jpgDr. Jerome Lewis, a British anthropologist from University College London, has fought side by side with the Baka Pygmies against the dispossession of their land and culture for 20 years. When political will failed, Dr. Lewis turned to the modern world for answers; his new defense – a Global Positioning System receiver. Who would have thought that a handheld GPS receiver is bound to play a vital role in environmental conservation?

Helveta, a UK based software company, together with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British High Commission, in conjunction with international efforts to promote sustainable development, released CI Earthâ„¢, a unique technology designed specifically to aid local communities of Cameroon in managing their forest resources.

The Modern World Reaching Out

Utilizing the capabilities and accuracy of Global Positioning System (GPS), the group has implemented the use of CI Earthâ„¢, an interactive cartography application that captures reference-able data points such as GPS microwave signals, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) radio waves and barcode IDs. It uses a ruggedized touch screen PDA for field data gathering. These icons, configured by the users themselves, help in addressing the stumbling blocks in communication. The data capture interface can be graphics, text or numeric based. This technology will allow the Baka Pygmies to map their forest environments using images or text that is easy to understand, contrary to the highly specialized language that usually comes with modern devices.
For the Baka Pygmies, this means they can now vigilantly watch and monitor activities on their hunting grounds, sacred trees and important rivers that have long been under the threat of land encroachment and illegal logging.

Patrick Newton, CEO of Helveta Ltd, describes how Helveta with its software platform can even locate a tree growing in the forest and trace it at each stage of the supply chain using Internet Protocol-based technology. And while many may wonder if the remoteness of these communities’ locations poses as a challenge, the use of a PDA comes in as a handy solution.

The True Value

What makes this state-of-the-art technology truly relevant is its function to create maps detailing natural resources and incidence of resource use activities, both legal and illegal.These maps and other data produced are made visible to stakeholders through online map sharing. This feature allows users to export data points and associated icons to GIS products such as ESRI’s ArcView, or GeoWeb applications such as Google™ Earth for easy printing and viewing. In short, this feature will be largely used to gather evidence for illegal logging activities.
side from the Baka community in Cameroon, CI Earth is also currently deployed in Nigeria, Central African Republic, and Republic of Congo. Everywhere it’s utilized, this technology is helping indigenous communities protect their environment.

Related Links:

BBC: GPS Helps Pygmies Defend Forest