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Drones Help With Counter-Mapping!

Posted by Barbara Fordyce on

In the past few years, drones have moved from strictly military to widespread commercial use. And they have proved their usefulness in an astounding array of fields, ranging from agriculture applications to zoos, where drones are being used to feed animals.

Drones are also making a huge impact in the important work of “counter-mapping”, that is, mapping an area according to information gathered by indigenous people, rather than governments and faraway institutions. The term “counter-mapping” was coined by Nancy Peluso, Forest Policy expert who teaches at UC Berkeley, to refer to acts of non-state cartography.

Maps Represent Authority

Throughout history, maps have been developed and used by governments and other organized powers as authoritative documents, underlying the allocation of territories, resources, and rights. The maps used for policy making were not made with any input from indigenous population.  The information presented often supported the interests of mining, logging and large scale agriculture.

Often, policies developed based on such maps overlooked the rights and needs of the local people. In some cases, the policies actually criminalized traditional uses of forest and forest products.

Countering the Institutional Map Authority

Now, there's a technological democratization of mapping underway.  Local people are contributing data and information to institutional mapmakers and planners, providing a counterweight to the existing map information.  By presenting high quality, real-time evidence to cartographers, they are influencing the policies and decisions that effect them.

Drones are a more affordable, efficient method of collection data, so they are popular with counter-mappers.  Compared to conventional mapping methods, drones are inexpensive and they can get to difficult to reach places.

Drones Identify Illegal Mining

Drone mapping proved to be very useful to community activists working in Indonesia, where local activists used a drone to produce a high-resolution map of a bauxite mine that overlapped with the local community’s land. By overlaying the images taken by the drone on the official concession map, researchers proved the company was illegally operating outside its concession boundary, and forced it to cease mining operations.

Read more about counter-mapping in Indonesia.

More "Counter-Mapping" Resources

Digital Democracy is an NGO dedicated to empowering marginalized communities to to defend their rights using technology, including mapping. The group makes mapping tools available through it's Mapeo system, an open source, offline map editor that allows people to make high quality maps of any area.




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