Using drones for indigenous mapping and monitoring


Using drones for indigenous mapping and monitoring

Quick read

  • Indigenous territories are facing threats of illegal activities, such as land grabbing and territorial boundary encroachments 
  • Technologies such as drones facilitates mapping and monitoring of indigenous land and other natural resources
  • Review of 5 projects on the use of drones in Peru, Guyana and Panama by indigenous communities

Indigenous lands are facing a lot of increasing pressures from numerous legal and illegal activities, causing severe environmental degradation and threatening indigenous territorial rights and livelihoods – proposes are recent article. The article reviews five projects carried out in Peru, Guyana, and Panama.

In these projects, the paper focuses on the interests of indigenous communities who envision technology as a tool to protect their land – from land grabbing and other related illegal activities.

Some of the technologies include the use of small drones for indigenous territorial mapping and monitoring.

The paper acknowledges that small drones have already been used in community-based forest monitoring, in community mapping, and monitoring aimed at indigenous territorial defense and environmental justice. [Paneque-Gálvez., et al 2017:2]

Summary of the 5 projects

The pilot projects were carried out in Central and South America since 2014 in Peru, Guyana, and Panama. T

he abridged diagram summarizing these outputs of these projects is shown below ( adapted from Paneque-Gálvez., et al 2017:5)

Ingenous Territory and Date Objective Main Outcomes Main Challenges Project Status
Kukama Kukamiria (August 2014) Oil spills and impacts Excellent mapping & filming results;Limited manual flying;Limited processing Limited funding and time; Limited electricity & internet; Insufficient IT/GIS skills; Safety Completed
Wapichana & Makushi (October 2014) Illegal logging,mining and deforestation Excellent building process; Good manual and autopilot flying;Limited processing Highly expensive photogrammetric software; Uncertain technological access to prior processing; Lack of landing
Harakmbut (August 2015) Illegal gold mining and impacts Excellent mapping & filming results;Limited manual flying; Limited processing Limited funding and time; Limited electricity & internet; Insufficient IT/GIS skills; Safety Continued: current status unknown
Emberá–Wounaan (August 2015 Illegal logging and deforestation Excellent mapping & filming results;Unknown manual flying;Unknown processing Limited funding and time; Safety Continued; current status unknown
Makushi (May-June 2016) Forest degradation and regrowth; Key natural resources Three-month change detection analysis on a swidden plot Limited funding for project continuity; Lack of internet access Expected to continue in 2018

In general, this study clarified that drones have many benefits for the indigenous communities in Central and South America, opening up two aspects. That of the potential of drones to produce up-to-date, high quality-maps, and the opportunities for multi-stakeholder participation as a result of the produced maps.

The cheaper cost of producing these maps is an opportunity for the indigenous communities. Once the communities have these images and maps they can also manage their boundaries better, identify and locate environmental impacts - such as oils spills, water pollution, fires or deforestation and illegal activities of commercial enterprises.

However there are many challenges that indigenous communities face as a result. These include that the technologies are still too complex for the farmers and indigenous communities - for example, GIS skills are needed to create georeferenced maps from drone imagery.

The full cases are available at:

Paneque-Gálvez, J.; Vargas-Ramírez, N.; Napoletano, B.M.; Cummings, A. Grassroots Innovation Using Drones for Indigenous Mapping and Monitoring. Land 2017, 6, 86.

Related content on e-Agriculture

During the e-Agriculture Learning Activity on Drones, one of the days was dedicated to the use of drones in forestry. In that day one can review additional experiences from the same region as the article above. For example, follow the recording of the webinar "Community Monitoring of Forests in Indigenous Territories in Panama".


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