The emergence of low-cost mapping tools has made map-making more accessible than ever. However, the sheer diversity of the rapidly changing mapping tools, systems, and approaches can be overwhelming for many organizations and communities.
To unlock the full potential of mapping technologies for the documentation of land rights, communities and organizations must be empowered with tools to design and implement fair and rigorous mapping processes for their task at hand, and without being dependent on external support. Additionally, groups must also be trained in how to best manage and use the information following the data collection. To achieve this, the legal advocacy group Namati partnered with Cadasta to organize participatory mapping exercises with grassroots organizations in Kenya, Nepal, and Myanmar.
As an organization dedicated to strengthening people’s capacity to exercise and defend their rights, Namati supports communities’ efforts to map and protect their customary land claims in accordance with best practices, ensuring local governance systems are in place. In the initial years of their Community Land Protection Program, Namati’s maps were primarily hand-drawn sketches, capturing communities’ perceptions of their land rights. While participatory, the government was left to collect the detailed spatial data, which often stalled by lack of government resources and political will.
Intrigued by the potential of low-cost and accessible mapping technologies, Namati partnered with Cadasta in 2016 and 2017 in order to test various approaches for data collection with the Cadasta platform. The Cadasta platform offers Namati and their partners a free, secure, cloud-based system that stores their data in a way that is easily shared to further collaboration. By using the Cadasta Platform, Namati directly captures and records evidence of community land and resource rights and ensure the data lives on beyond the project, remaining accessible to community leaders.
Based on these experiences, Namati and Cadasta developed participatory mapping and data collection training tools and techniques. Together they trained a number of Namati’s partners including Kivulini Trust and the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP) in Kenya, and the Community Self Reliance Center in Nepal. Following the trainings, these organizations collected their own data for advocacy and planning purposes. The OPDP successfully collected community resource and boundary points, which has served as valuable evidence to protect their land claims before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The court ruled in their favor, forcing the government of Kenya to respect the right of the Ogiek community to live on their land in the Mau Forest.
The pilots and feedback from partner organizations and communities have directly informed the refinement of Cadasta’s online platform and other integrated tools to better accommodate pastoralist and customary issue and advocacy and planning. Namati has also strengthened other aspects of their community land protection efforts based on learnings from the mapping pilots, including how to use mapping activities to ensure that agreed boundaries between communities are documented clearly and precisely, increasing involvement by community leaders and local government, and improving transparency between communities and organizations on the use of community data.
Reflecting on the partnership, Rachael Knight, Director of Namati’s Community Land Protection Program commented, “Participatory community mapping is not just a means to an end, it is an empowering process of documenting local knowledge and building technical skills. The Cadasta platform makes this process easy and possible by offering tools that were previously only available to the State or powerful elites.”