Growing up as part of the M'bororo people – traditional semi-nomadic and nomadic herders living in Chad and neighbouring countries – nothing could have prepared Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim for the turn her life would take once she was introduced to participatory mapping. At the time, she was a young woman, working to gain recognition of her people's rights, and especially for access to the natural resources that are critical to their livelihoods.
Participatory three-dimensional modelling (P3DM), or participatory mapping, brings together traditional knowledge from local communities about their landscapes and ecosystems with data on physical features, such as land elevation and sea depth. The result is a scaled and geo-referenced three-dimensional (3D) model, which can be a powerful tool for knowledge building and communication, as well as for gaining recognition of local communities' rights to be involved in decision-making that affects their natural resources.
Hindou's introduction to P3DM came through the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC), a network of 150 indigenous peoples' organisations in 20 African countries. IPACC had been introduced to participatory mapping by CTA's P3DM expert, Giacomo Rambaldi, and supported in its use as a tool for gathering evidence for indigenous peoples' arguments in national and international negotiations.
A bitter conflict
Encouraged to learn about the practice through a P3DM exercise in Gabon, Hindou spent two weeks living with local pygmies and helping them to build a participatory 3D map of their jungle landscape. The pygmies had lost some of their hunting and fishing rights when a national park was created, and the mapping exercise succeeded in its goal of convincing the government that these indigenous people had a right to be consulted about decisions affecting their homeland.
Hindou was hooked.
"It was a long way away from my own community and very different, but I found the exercise exciting and interesting," said Hindou, who is Director of the Association des Femmes Peules Autochtones du Tchad (AFPAT) and IPACC's Executive Committee representative for the Congo Basin region. "It was the first time I had seen all the intergenerational people mobilised – women, youths, men and elders. I realised that if we did this in my own community, it could help resolve a great many issues."
That chance came in 2012, when, with CTA support, a mapping exercise involving Hindou's own M'bororo people was organised in the southern district of Baïbokoum, the scene of conflicts between nomadic herders and sedentary farmers. Increasing scarcity of natural resources, especially water reserves, was being exacerbated by climate change and population growth, and the bitter contention between the two groups was threatening to spiral out of control.
Hindou was closely involved in the P3DM event, organising the workshop that preceded it, which brought together herders, scientists, UNESCO and World Meteorological Organization representatives as well as government officials for the first time. Once again, participatory mapping proved to be a winning approach. The model-making process enabled all players to have an overview of the contested area, highlighting where the farmers had barred the routes used by herders to take their cattle to water and identifying a range of solutions that would be acceptable to all.
The mapping exercise showed that indigenous peoples could play an effective role in decision-making, from which they had always been excluded in the past. And it gave a new sense of self-confidence to all members of the community, especially women.
"We took the opportunity to increase the capacity of women to express themselves, showing men that the women had a voice and that their opinions were sometimes more valuable than those of men – and the men accepted this," said Hindou. "As a result, women had a greater say in community affairs."
Powerful traditional knowledge
At a personal level, the mapping exercise also proved an eye opener for Hindou herself.
"The impact on me was huge. This was my community, so I knew all the traditional knowledge, but it helped me to understand things that didn't belong to my own generation," she recalls. "It changed my life forever."
Hindou now uses P3DM in all her work, to illustrate the importance of conserving traditional knowledge, how to marry it with scientific knowledge and using both to combat climate change and protect the environment.
Although her roots are still firmly anchored in her community, Hindou has become used to travelling the world to make presentations and put the indigenous people's case to high-ranking officials in climate-change negotiations. For the past 10 years, she has been a regular participant at meetings of the UN Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. She is Co-Chair of the International Indigenous Peoples' Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC), which represents the interests of indigenous peoples throughout the world and presents these at COP negotiations.
"Climate change is a massive problem for indigenous people because we depend on the environment. For any indigenous people, from any corner of the world, livelihoods are linked to natural resources, for our food and medicine, for everything, so if there are floods or droughts the impact is greater for us," she said. "Of course, it is highly unusual for someone of my background to be travelling the world and speaking at conferences and negotiating. But for me, it is important to change the life of my community. I know my people are proud of what I am doing and I can never give up my work. I want to help my community to adapt to climate change, and you cannot talk about climate change without talking about the rights of indigenous people."
Tomorrow on www.cta.int, meet Mrs Rose Kamanga – Rose's smart tips for climate change
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In 2011 and 2012, CTA, IPACC and AFPAT jointly produced a series of documentaries on climate governance, aiming to document indigenous peoples’ responses to climate change, and the mobilisation of different forms of knowledge to create dialogue between scientists, decision-makers and communities at risk of conflict and climate vulnerability. Watch the videos by following these links: