Congo’s pygmies turn to technology

GPS satellite tracking helps to preserve traditional lands.

Commercial logging is big business in the Congo Basin

Pygmies in the world’s second largest rainforest are turning to modern technology to preserve their lands.

While the world’s rainforests are a rich source of raw materials, they’re also home to many indigenous people, and for the hunter-gatherer pygmies of Africa’s Congo Basin, the forest is crucial to their way of life.

Al Jazeera’s Gladys Njoroge has been finding out how global positioning satellites are now being used to protect the pygmies’ traditional way of life: 

Pygmies and commercial loggers are
working together [Al Jazeera]

The Basin is the world’s second-largest rainforest, covering six countries from Cameroon to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The growth and spread of commercial logging has long been seen as a threat to the indigenous tribes, cutting through hunting grounds and sacred areas that have been used by them for centuries.

About 80 per cent of the timber removed from the Congo Basin will end up in China and the European Union. 

Until now the growing commercial activity threatens to wipe out the livelihood and culture of the pygmies who are traditionally hunters and gatherers. 

Now though, these indigenous tribes are hoping that a marriage of tradition and technology may hold the answer.

Hand-held satellite tracking devices are being used to mark areas of forest that should be left untouched.

One of the Juslin Independent people demonstrated the new system to Al Jazeera: “The images you can see on the GPS are of the sacred tree of the spirit of the woman, the sacred city of men for Eteni culture, also the cemeteries are marked there.

It’s a win-win situation for both parties.

“So the vehicles must not drive around these areas. There’s also the Mengoulou, which indicates the location of hunting grounds and settlements.”

The GPS maps are also being used by a Danish-run company to guide their logging activities in the same area.

In the past, such companies were considered a threat; few employed pygmies and their traditional lifestyles were at risk from the bulldozers of the loggers, while decades of civil war also opened up the forest to illegal logging.

This new scheme ensures that forest areas critical to the pygmies’ survival are left standing – irrespective of the timber business.

Tribes are using wind-up radios to
spread the word on technology

Lucas van der Walt, the Environment Manager at Congolaise Industrialle Des Bois told us: “It’s a win-win situation for both parties.

“The communities who live in these forests have the reassurance and the guarantee that their livelihoods will be protected and not be damaged by our operation and there’s an independent group of people making sure that we adhere to this.

“On our side there’s also benefit of having a good relation with these communities,” he said. 

This conservation message is now being transmitted through the airwaves to communities living near the forest, using other technology such as clockwork-driven radios.

Modern technology is slowly creeping in among the pygmies – and instead of killing their ancient traditions, it’s helping preserve them.

Source: Al Jazeera

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