REDD+ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation

Technology at the service of traditional knowledge - Indigenous community forest monitoring in the Kuna territories of Panama


More than half of Panama is covered with forests, while more than one-third of these forests are in indigenous territories. According to the country’s NDCs submitted to the UNFCCC under the Paris Agreement, Panama aims to increase the absorption capacity of the forest sector by over 10 percent, with the possibility of increasing this up to 80 percent with adequate international financial support. This initiative aims to encourage landowners to maintain forest cover of their lands and promote the creation of incentive schemes for the sustainable management of forest resources, reforestation, and restoration of degraded forest lands. The involvement and active participation of local communities and indigenous peoples in the implementation of the NDCs, as well as in contributing to the monitoring of their results is essential for the country to achieve its goals.

As a part of UN-REDD collaboration with Panama, FAO has been working closely with the territories, the national coordinating body of Indigenous Peoples in Panama (COONAPIP) and with the Ministry of Environment to strengthen Panama’s national forest monitoring system; ensure active participation of key stakeholders; and to enhance community forest monitoring efforts, as well as sustainable forest management practices in indigenous territories.

A series of trainings in community-based forest monitoring began in February 2016, where members of the main indigenous communities of Panama (Bribri, Bugle, Embera, Naso Tjër-Di, Ngäbe and Wounaan) learnt about the use of drones and other technologies to track changes in land use that could endanger forest ecosystems (watch video).

The data, which has been collected by indigenous peoples through drones, has been used as an input to this collaborative work. In the framework of this collaboration, from 24 July to 10 August 2017, indigenous representatives of the four Gunas territories met in Panama City and the Comarca Kuna of Madugandi to build capacities for community-based forest monitoring in indigenous territories. Seven technicians of Gunayala, Kuna of Madugandi, Kuna of Wargandi, and the ancestral territory of Takargunyal were trained on geographic information systems (GIS), geographic databases, remote sensing, and the use of drones. Thanks to this training, the capacities of Gunas technicians to generate information for the management of their territory and natural resources through community monitoring of forests has been strengthened.

FAO/REDD+ and the Indigenous Peoples Team in the Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Development Division with the Research and Development Institute of Kuna Yala (IIDKY) of the Guna Yala Congress supported the activities  The participants learned through hands-on practical exercises about the fundamentals of cartography and GIS, geographic databases and the use of online GIS resources, spatial analysis and spatial data processing tools, remote sensing and Google Earth tools, and the classification of land cover and detection of changes using satellite and drone images. The final practical exercise involved an integration of tools to create a forest monitoring system in indigenous territories.

This was the first time that the participants had attended a training on GIS, remote sensing, and the use of drones. They indicated that more of this kind of training was needed to continue building capacity. Most participants were very satisfied with the results of the workshop.

As one participant noted, ‘For me, this was excellent training! I learned new things through the course, and would recommend that such training programs be held twice a year.’

The expertise generated with this training-of-trainers approach will give participants the opportunity to train other members of their communities, and increase technical capacities for the management of their territories. It will improve community based management and informed decision-making, and will help to design a conceptual framework that incorporates the cosmovision of the Gunas Nations. This collectively drafted vision is due to be finalised in another workshop in Gunayala.

Read the e-Agriculture Promising Practice Brief: Drones for community monitoring of forests

Authors: María del Carmen Ruiz-Jaén, Serena Fortuna and Lucio Santos.

Photo caption and credit: Technician Rafael Valdespino from the Comarca Embera Wounaan explains how to use a drone to Numambrino Gonzalez and Balbino Gonzalez from the Comarca Kuna de Wargandi and Gunayala.  Photo credit: Tamara Hernandez/FAO


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