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  • Congolese pygmies use GPS to save trees

The Mbendjele pygmies, semi-nomadic people living in the rainforests of north-western Republic of Congo, are using technology to save important trees from commercial logging, reports Michael Hopkin in this Nature article. 

Before 2006, the Mbendjele people had no say in logging activities in their part of the forest, and commercial loggers often cut down trees of significance, for example ones used for caterpillar gathering.

But consumers in the developed world are increasingly demanding that their wood is harvested in a socially responsible way, which means logging companies must engage with local people.

So the logging company in the Mbendjele region, Congolaise Industrielle des Bois, started a project to help the Mbendjele map the forest using global positioning systems (GPS).

The Mbendjele used a GPS-linked, palm-pilot-style device to record the significance of different areas, for instance, areas used for hunting, gathering, social and religious gatherings and farming.

Since mapping began in June 2006, the logging company says it has mapped this year's logging area in a third of the time it would take with traditional mapping. They have pledged to respect the Mbendjele's trees, and say they can do so without harming their profit margins. 

The pygmies have been busy with new technology in other ways too. They've set up a community radio station, called 'Bisso na Bisso' ('Beween us' in the Lingala language), giving them a voice and access to information on planned logging. 

Link to full article/paper in Nature

Reference: Nature 448, 402 (2007)