A US initiative to document forestry land rights is expected to promote sustainable agroforestry, environmental protection and the rural livelihoods of the upper Guinean tropical forest.
Information group Thomson Reuters and the US Forestry Service (USFS) have teamed up to provide resources to document land rights in the forest by providing training and appropriate software to locals in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.
The Sustainable and Thriving Environments for West African Regional Development (Steward) programme aims to strengthen natural resource management, climate change adaptation and environmental education in the transboundary-protected areas of the forest.
The programme is in its third phase, set for completion in September 2016, and includes the provision of solar panels to power computers and the training of three communities to document and map land and resource rights using the company’s OpenTitle software. The information will be collected and sent to a geographic information system (Gis) centre, which will be created under the direction of Thomson Reuters at the Steward office in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Phases 1 and 2 entailed the design and piloting of the programme to ensure it is feasible for the communities and end-users.
The Gis centre will integrate the Steward data with geographic information on company lease rights, public lands, natural resources and species mapping of fauna and flora. Decision-makers can then analyse the area’s overlapping ‘rights fabric’ to better manage natural resources and address rural poverty.
The forest is one of eight major biomes in West Africa and covers about 1.3-million square kilometres across Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo. It sustains about one quarter of all plant species on earth, but its biodiversity is threatened by unsustainable land use practices.
Most of the land is undocumented, with no formal ownership, and the region lacks well-functioning land-management systems that provide clear, publicly accessible records to property rights.
“Without clear documentation of their property rights, residents don’t have the ability to secure their land, which may lead to contested land and forestry rights and the overexploitation of the natural resources,” explained Thomson Reuters business development manager Frank Pichel.