The mapping exercise involving villagers on the shores of the upper Suriname River, home to some 17,000 Afro-Surinamese people belonging to the Saramaccan tribe, is the latest of several participatory mapping initiatives supported by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation (CTA).
Benefits of participatory mapping, which combines modern spatial information technologies, such as geographic information systems, with traditional knowledge, include helping local communities to shape policies, as well as natural resource management, landscape planning, advocacy, inter-generational knowledge transmission, conflict management and climate change adaptation.
Partners in the Suriname mapping project were Tropenbos International Suriname and WWF. The Participatory 3 Dimensional Modelling (P3DM) technique was introduced to the Caribbean in 2012 in Trinidad and Tobago and has been successfully replicated in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada. In other initiatives involving CTA, P3DM has been used to map local knowledge in parts of Africa and the Pacific.
"Making sure that farmers and fisher folk are empowered to fully engage in decision-making processes that affect their livelihoods is a priority for CTA," said Michael Hailu, Director of CTA. "We are pleased to support this initiative in Suriname, as we have done in many other countries across the Caribbean. The tool makes it easy for local communities to share their traditional knowledge and have a say in how their land, water and forest resources will be managed."
More than 70 Saramaccan adults used their knowledge and memory to fill the 3D map with detailed features, after younger community members, mostly girls, had assembled the blank model of an area covering about 2,160 km2 of forest and river, under the guidance of staff from CTA and Tropenbos International Suriname.
"At CTA we are interested in merging scientific knowledge with traditional knowledge," said Giacomo Rambaldi, Senior Programme Coordinator ICT at CTA, after the presentation at the 13th Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA), held in Paramaribo, Suriname October 6-10. "This kind of mapping empowers local communities to have a say in the policies that determine their future. Their knowledge is recognised as a valuable asset and their status is acknowledged as an important ingredient for policy planning by the authorities."
The model will be hosted in one of the riverside villages, where it will be used to facilitate negotiations and planning for investments in local infrastructure and sustainable development, such as electrification and ecotourism. Representatives from the Saramaccan community are being trained in the use of Web 2.0 and social media to facilitate communication and advocacy.
In September, members of the Saramaccan tribe showed their 3D map to representatives of government agencies, non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations, the private sector and the national media.
Godfried Adjako, Captain of the village of Kajapati on the Upper Suriname River, says that the most important thing is that Suriname recognises the land rights of the Saramaccan people. He now considers the 3D model as a tool for planning his community's own development.
"This mapping exercise has been very important, because previously, we did not have such a clear idea of the area, even if we knew it," he said, in an interview during the CWA. "Now it's much easier to determine which areas villagers can use, for example for agriculture, and which areas are sacred. It will also help us in the planning of any activities, such as sustainable logging or tourism."
A documentary movie can be viewed at:
Senior Programme Coordinator for Communication (CTA)