Three-dimensional maps: empowering rural communities
©CTA/Giacomo Rambaldi

Communication and knowledge sharing

Three-dimensional maps: empowering rural communities

Building three-dimensional physical models in village settings is bringing together traditional and modern scientific knowledge to tackle challenges ranging from soil degradation to land use planning, and forest management to climate change. The Power of Maps: Bringing the Third Dimension to the Negotiation Table, published by CTA, details some of the field experiences of the technique, known as participatory three-dimensional modelling (P3DM). This book has been at the forefront of promoting the practice across African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

Developed in the early 1990s in Southeast Asia, P3DM is rapidly gaining ground in other parts of the global south. Participatory 3D models, made out of cardboard and illustrated with coloured paints, pushpins and yarn, portray different land cover, such as farmland, rivers and forests, as well as other features, including coastal resources and sea depth. Uniquely, they also depict traditional knowledge, such as ancestral land rights and sacred places. These features are generally supplied by elders in the community, while younger members build the map itself. The result is a free-standing relief model which provides tangible evidence of local knowledge, serving as an effective tool for analysis, decision-making, advocacy, action and monitoring.

"Knowledge built up over time and passed from generation to generation represents a unique asset for rural communities when it comes to their land, forest and aquatic resources," says CTA Director Michael Hailu. "The ability to collate and geo-reference local knowledge and represent it in the form of three-dimensional maps offers a unique opportunity for local communities to have a voice in decisions on how to sustainably manage their resources."

Often, the process of P3DM is in itself empowering, bringing communities and generations together and helping them to visualise the extent of their resources. It is also helps communities understand how climate change and other threats, such as mining and deforestation, may be affecting them. Once completed, the physical model remains with the community.

Case studies presented from Ethiopia, Fiji and Madagascar show how P3DM has led to the development of community-driven natural resource management plans. Other examples of P3DM initiatives described in the book demonstrate how the technique can give marginalised rural people a voice to make their case heard. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Bambuti-Batwa pygmy community used a P3DM exercise to drive talks on the injustice they claim has been enforced on them, by being evicted from the territory they had inhabited for generations.

Three-dimensional mapping has also helped the Kenyan hunter-gatherer Ogiek tribe to document its ancestral land rights and knowledge systems. Meanwhile, in Tobago, a Caribbean island that has suffered a series of extreme climate events in recent years, P3DM has been used to guide community-driven disaster risk reduction strategies.

South-South cooperation is helping to make the practice of P3DM become better known, and CTA has been closely involved in efforts to share training and facilitation between Caribbean and Pacific Islands and a range of African countries.

Experiences of P3DM can generate other benefits, such as imparting new skills and increased self-confidence to participants and offering funding for communities to implement beneficial activities. For instance, in Grenada a participatory three-dimensional model helped to mobilise donor funding for climate change adaptation, for a community that created a model, on a stretch of the coastline badly affected by hurricane damage.

"P3DM, the process documented in this book, has proved to be successful in eliciting substantial amounts of what is termed as tacit knowledge from individuals, to collate individual world views into a shared, visible and tangible representation of collegial knowledge," says Senior Programme Coordinator Giacomo Rambaldi, who has led CTA's involvement in P3DM.

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