ALN logo; link to Arid Lands Newsletter Home page No. 48, November/December 2000
Linkages between Cultural Diversity and Biodiversity

Participatory mapping at landscape levels: Broadening implications for sustainable development and biodiversity conservation in developing country drylands

by Michael Brown and Christin Hutchinson

"Neither a bottom-up approach, nor a top-down approach to conservation and development can promote sustainability. This is because key stakeholders are either left out wholly, or become marginal players at crucial points in the process, through both top-down and bottom-up planning. For sustainability to be achieved, multistakeholder coalitions must become the quid pro quo in framing the actions necessary to enable optimal decisions to be taken, and effective actions pursued."

Participation is not a new concept in drylands management. Neither is mapping, nor institutional assessment. What is new, we suggest in this paper, is an approach that integrates geo-referenced mapping, driven and owned by local communities, with a set of other tools. These include: objective institutional analysis, identification of natural product development opportunities, and participatory inventorying of dryland natural resources.

While we label this approach "Participatory Mapping at Landscape Levels," we note that the other aforementioned elements aside from mapping are also integral to the approach. While developed primarily for moist tropical forest conservation in the Congo Basin through funding under the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID) Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE),(1) the approach is definitely adaptable to dryland landscapes targeted under the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD).

The approach, as developed under CARPE, focuses on decentralized natural resources management, with an emphasis on what we have labeled "local forest resource management systems."(2) These systems encompass institutional elements, along with management practices. The scale ranges from village- to multi-village level, all the way to landscapes either within or across administrative boundaries encompassing different ecosystems and habitats.

The approach is proving effective at creating a "space" for bringing different stakeholder groups together to first "appreciate" local resource management realities, and from this, identify management options. For this reason, the approach can serve as the basis for inter-community, multi-stakeholder coalition building. This will be a fundamental component for any sustainable natural resource use planning and management in drylands.

link to diagram
Thumbnail link to schematic diagram of IRM approach, ~10K file

The 5-step approach used by IRM in the Congo Basin begins with an analysis of forest resource management systems (LFRMS).(3) By LFRMS, we mean management of specific forest resources within the context of specific institutions and incentives. An example of a well-defined LFRMS is the cocoa system, where the institutions include farmers' groups and markets, the resources are cocoa trees, inputs and land, and the incentives include prices and the desire to attain the status of "cocoa planter."

Research into LFRMS can focus on both resources and institutions-such as households, village councils, government agencies and markets-that govern the management of a range of resources. Incentives to sustainable management such as economic benefit, food security, cultural integrity and empowerment also cut across both institutions and resources. The advantage of focusing on LFRMS is that all of these components are seen in interaction with each other.

To the LFRMS unit of analysis, several participatory tools are added.(4) These include participatory natural resource inventory, participatory mapping and identification of natural product marketing incentives. Used together, these tools allow a community to better understand the status of its natural resources, problems affecting the sustainability of those resources (scarcity, degradation, encroachment of competing interests), and potential natural product development opportunities.

Results of the inventory and market analysis, used in conjunction with the resultant participatory maps, allows implementation of the Community Options and Investment Tool (COAIT), whereby a full range of appropriate and feasible community development actions are identified. From an analysis of these potential actions, multistakeholder-developed and -negotiated land use plans and agreements are formulated, leading to the ultimate goal of the implementation of negotiated agreements to achieve sustainable resource management.

While methodological kinks are still being worked out, the approach is favorable to situations where feasibility for community mobilization is high, either because of internal community dynamics, or because enabling actions have been taken in terms of policies and/or economic incentives for resource management.

The broader implications of implementing the approach outlined above for sustainable drylands management are the following:

  • The approach uses "appropriate technologies" that are easily managed by local peoples
  • Actions are taken through the approach that enable negotiated drylands management plans to be developed
  • Actions are taken that empower communities to take a lead in planning, while enabling technical and financial collaborators to assume appropriate technical support roles
  • When combined, these actions enable a rational basis for the emergence of multistakeholder coalitions, the management modality that we believe will prove, over time, to be the key element of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in developing country drylands.
  • Tools heretofore used for biodiversity conservation tended to be oriented more for use by protected area managers, versus local populations, thereby limiting the relevance of these tools to the latter. This is to the detriment of dryland conservation in and around protected areas, as local stakeholders have tended to be left out of the planning and implementation of biodiversity conservation activities save in mainly a "consultative" way.(5)

The premise underpinning the thesis and approach we present here is the following:

Neither a bottom-up approach, nor a top-down approach to conservation and development can promote sustainability. This is because key stakeholders are either left out wholly, or become marginal players at crucial points in the process, through both top-down and bottom-up planning. For sustainability to be achieved, multistakeholder coalitions must become the quid pro quo in framing the actions necessary to enable optimal decisions to be taken, and effective actions pursued.

To achieve multistakeholder coalitions in dryland settings, participatory mapping at landscape levels will be a key element. As part of the 5 activity levels outlined in the IRM approach, participatory mapping builds on lessons learned from rapid rural appraisal, co-management, community forestry and other participatory methodologies.

Participatory mapping teams communities with government cadastral experts, enabling production of geo-referenced maps that reflect local resource use and ownership realities as the communities see them. In many ways, these teams are the nucleus for broader management coalitions that may emerge as "spin-offs" from the process. Not only does the inclusion of government employees in the mapping process help communities and governments reach new understanding of forest management issues, the fact that the finished maps have the government imprimatur is de facto acknowledgement by government of local resource use realities.

thumbnail of community map
Thumbnail link to image of community map [NB: very large!!], ~495K file

These maps represent an appropriate technology around which communities can mobilize themselves, and negotiate resource access and management agreements with government and the private sector.

Based on our experience in Central Africa, following participatory mapping activities, communities in both Mt. Cameroon and Djoum, for example, publicly requested changes to existing zoning within the government-managed Mokoko Forest Reserve, on the one hand, and the government-attributed forest concessions of southern Cameroon in Djoum in the latter case. In Mt. Cameroon, community claims were based on de facto use of lands that for many years had been gazetted for uses inimical to the needs and realities of local peoples. The mapping exercise helped clarify the disparity between community access to forest and agricultural resources, and the community's needs to meet its subsistence demands.

In the absence of participatory mapping, it is hard to see how any collaborative landscape-level land use planning exercises will actually take place. Existing maps, for example, reflect little of the perspective or concerns of communities. Participatory maps, on the other hand, can serve as the basis for communities to negotiate land use, tenure reform, and changes to existing drylands zoning.


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(1) The mapping component of the overall approach was developed by the Center for the Support of Native Lands in their work in Bolivia, Honduras and Panama. The mapping method has been adapted by Innovative Resources Management to moist tropical forest areas of the Congo Basin. For details of this work, refer to the IRM web site at to text)

(2) See the IRM web site,, Papers, "Introduction" by Michael Brown, and "USAID/CARPE Local Forest Management in the Congo Basin," by Alain Karsenty and Daou Joiris (in French), for a discussion of local forest resource management systems. (back to text)

(3) For examples of such analyses, see for papers by Jean Martial Bonis Charancle and Zephirin Mogba describing such systems in Cameroon. (back to text)

(4) Details of Innovative Resources Management participatory tools can be found at the IRM web site ( or by contacting to text)

(5) Participatory Mapping is revolutionary because it allows for "empowerment" as development rhetoric in the late 20th century would have it. Communities own the mapping process (and the maps), albeit we believe in collaboration with multiple entities. This is in stark contrast to "consultation," which is the term that donor agencies use for discussions with communities concerning "projects" which more often that not are designed by outsiders to meet the agenda of outsiders, not necessarily in complementarity with the needs of local peoples. (back to text)

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Author information

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Michael Brown is President of Innovative Resources Management, Inc. (IRM). Christin Hutchinson is Project Manager at IRM. You can reach them for comment as follows:

Innovative Resources Management, Inc.
2421 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20037
Telephone: 1-202-293-8384
Fax: 1-202-293-8386

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