Posted to the Ethnos Project by on July 26th, 2012


Smartphones beeping in the woods may be a welcome presence that augurs the increased ability of indigenous communities to be stewards of their own biodiverse forests. Representatives of these communities and their supporters have advocated that international conservation policies like Reduced Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) be increasingly managed by the communities themselves. A new strategy in this effort is to train local residents to use smart phone ‘apps’ to collect geographic data and photographs, allowing them to monitor the health of forests essential to their livelihoods, according to a report by the Global Canopy Program. Local data can then be incorporated into national databases so they become linked with remote sensing data. The Global Canopy Program argues that the technique will create a more collaborative and transparent monitoring system while bolstering community forest management practices.

These efforts are seen by Trivedi as a way of empowering indigenous people to utilize their “local knowledge” in forest management. However, the use of sophisticated technology such as Android smartphones—developed by multinational corporations, programmed by Global North software developers, and disseminated either though NGOs or governmental agencies—raises significant questions about different knowledge systems and the integration of “local knowledge” with more universalized scientific information. Whose knowledge shapes the process? Will indigenous people simply be collecting data or will they influence the design of the data collection? Regardless of the answers, the use of smartphone monitoring technology by indigenous people will likely have considerable impact on both the effectiveness of community forest management and the debates that surround it.

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