The Amazon in focus: development challenges and participatory monitoring tools for the rainforest

BRASA Conference: Amazon panel

The past two weeks were extremely busy. Between August 22nd and 24th I attended the Brazilian Studies Association Conference, which was held in London. The Conference gathered more than two hundred international scholars and students from different fields who carry out research about Brazil. There were three panels dedicated to studies on the Amazon region and, not surprisingly, the topics were related to the threats and pressures the rainforest is increasingly suffering from development projects. Public policies for the region were also included in the debate, covering a number of strategic areas, from access to traditional knowledge to biofuels. I had the opportunity of presenting a paper on the management of indigenous lands in Brazil, focused on the process that led to the National Policy for Territorial Management of Indigenous Lands and the construction of Indigenous Management Plans for their lands. Professor Anthony Hall, from the London School of Economics, and the writer and journalist Sue Branford, were the panel participants and gave fundamental contributions to the debates.

Participants trying out Sapelli

As the Conference finished, I embarked on a long trip to get to Guyana’s rainforest, where I met NGO partners, and community and governmental representatives from many parts of the world to discuss the potential of technological tools to implement national Community Measuring, reporting and Verifying (CMRV) systems. The workshop was organised by the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Canopy Programme, and it took place at Arrow Point – a rainforest resort.

During the week, a number of different tools to gather data on land cover and use, carbon measurements, biodiversity and safeguards were presented, such as Open Data Kit (ODK), GEO-ODK, Cyber Tracker, and Sapelli. Also, different online platforms to visualise the data were shown, such as the Moabi platform. We had the chance to explore the potential of each tool through practical exercises and discussions, and compare their strengths and weaknesses. Participants highlighted the advantage of Sapelli due to the possibility of working with icons, therefore enabling illiterate people to use it, as well as ExCiteS methodology that is concerned with ensuring the effective participation of communities in projects through the application of free prior and informed consent and the construction of community protocols.

Sapelli’s icon-driven interface

Those are all tools that are still being developed/improved and making them useful for CMRV is yet another challenge. The capacity to translate international agreements and national schemes to communities’ realities is not an easy task. Also, participants agreed that to get the communities’ engagement, relying only on tools and methodologies is not enough. It is essential that the activities are meaningful to them and connected to their life contexts.

The days of discussions at Arrow Point were extremely productive. We had no access to the Internet and we were working very closely to our fieldwork environments, which made the encounter even more fruitful. The exchange of ideas was extremely rich, especially due to the different backgrounds of the participants.

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