Using Participatory GIS to Forge Links Between Local People's Perspectives and Conservation


The mapping of indigenous lands to manage natural resources, and strengthen cultures is a recent phenomenon, having begun in Canada and Alaska in the 1960s and in other regions during the last decade and a half. (Chapin et. al. 2005). Ghana as a signatory to the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development in 1992 and subsequently ratifying the Convention of Biological Diversity have searched for participatory methods and practices that would help manage and protect their natural resources.

A practice considered significant in mapping these indigenous lands for biodiversity protection is the Participatory Geographical Information System (PGIS). This geomatic tool is a combination of Geographical Information Systems supported by Participatory Rural Appraisal Approach. In recent years, the term PGIS has become more popular and drawn an increasing attention of GIS researchers and practitioners, particularly in its application in the development and biodiversity conservation context in developing countries.

Biodiversity and Conservation Goals

The overall goal of this research is to assess the relevance of PGIS for the conservation of biodiversity at the village and local level by looking at conditions for PGIS and the conservation of the Buabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary. My objective in this project is to apply PGIS spatial tools to help conserve the Buabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary which is situated in the heart for the Nkoranza district of the Brong Ahafo region in Ghana.

The design of a participatory geographic information system would be developed into an 'intelligent' GIS map depicting the areas cultural diversity using photographs, sound, video, cognitive maps and other audio visuals. The functionality of this approach is to support local cultural relationships and institutions, provide an opportunity for contemporary expression and innovation and ultimately attract tourist to the area to generate cash for the locals. PGIS would be valued for its practical efficiency and effectiveness, low cost, and its responsiveness to goals of empowerment and legitimacy in biodiversity conservation.

Literature Review

Since 1990s, GIS has been claimed as a magic tool in Natural Resource Management as the perfect answer to each and every resource problem. (Heit and Shortreid 1991). In context of areas where multi-ethno linguistic situation exits, it is very easy for people from different groups to communicate on issues related to spatial dimension within the area. Therefore, it is highly useful for negotiation situation in which spatial conflicts are involved (Rambaldi, Bugna et al. 2002). The need for predictive in addition to descriptive natural resource inventory using computer-based methods was argued by Nix and Gillison (1985)

[1] This discussion influenced the choice of PGIS in conserving biodiversity in this report. Geographic information systems however, have the capability to handle several kinds of information that can be related to a location or area. In this case, culture, biodiversity and tourism. Mackay [2] In his discussion on the role of GIS and environmental modeling argue that there is no single ecological unit of analysis, rather a variety of ecological phenomena are the foci of studies, which includes populations, species, communities, habitats and ecosystems. According to his thesis managers require lines on maps saying where things are, and what can or cannot be done with them. Any emphasis to identify valuable biodiversity spots may have to implore the application of GIS technology which besides its contribution in scientific studies, has been accepted as an effective and efficient tool for decision-makers. The incorporation cultural landscapes to promote conservation and tourism are imperative in this case.

The Buabeng Fiema Monkey Sanctuary which is the focus for this study is in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana and lies within three villages which are Buabeng, Fiema and Dotobaa in the forest Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana. This region forms part of the transitional zone between the country's coastal rainforests and its dry grassland interior. It serves as the habitat protecting the resident black and white (Colobus polykomos), Mona Monkeys (Cercopithecus campbelli) andred colobus (Procolobus badius waldroni)and which are important to the cultural and sacred beliefs of the local people. (Fargey, 1992). The monkeys' lives together with humans and large groups are easily found in the forest and within the villages. There are about 500 Mona monkeys in the sanctuary covering an area of about 4.4 square kilometers. The sanctuary protects Research surveys in Ghana by Oates et. al., (2000) confirmed endangered the Miss Waldron's red colobus monkey (Procolobus badius waldroni), a primate taxon endemic to this forest area of Ghana and enlisted as extinct by IUCN Red List (IUCN Red list 2006).

The monkeys are seen as their 'totem' which are mammalian representations of various tribal/clan groupings of the Akans, a Kwa language spoken ethnic group in Ghana. The term 'totem' comes from a North American Indian language, and it has been widely used to refer especially to objects of the animal and vegetable kingdoms which are held to be in a special relationship with particular groups of people, or individuals in a society. (Beattle, 1964: 219). These totems are based on rules of taboos. Etymologically speaking, 'taboo' is a derivation of the Polynesian term 'tabu'which means forbidden. It is applicable to any sort of prohibition regarding certain times, places, actions, events and people etc. especially, but not exclusively, for religious reasons. Sarpong (1974), a renowned Ghanaian traditional writer suggest that taboos could be adopted to signify a prohibition of any kind. In this case towards the conservation of wildlife. An oral local folklore

[3] has it that: "A hunter who once lived in Buabeng, sometime in 1842 came into contact with a spirit being called 'Daworo'. The spirit led him to the forest one day and saw five monkeys gathered around a pot covered with calico. The hunter was enthralled and could not shoot them. Upon consulting Daworo, he was told to treat monkeys as relatives. 'Dawuro' asked the hunter to take the calico home and when he did that the monkeys followed him home. With time the number of the monkeys increased and the fortunes of the hunter also increased. The hunter attributed his improved material condition to his association with the monkeys and this led to a symbiotic relationship that has persisted to this day. "

Till today any monkey that died was buried and funeral rites held for it just as human Sanctuary to kill any of the monkeys which inhabit the forest and around their villages. The sanctuary is an important example of how traditional values in Ghana have resulted in wildlife conservation. It is however saddening that recent survey conducted by Conservation International (CI, 2000) revealed that about 98% of the over 200 animals represented as totems in Ghana are either extinct, endangered or threatened.

In order for the sanctuary to operate in its potential as a tourist destination there is the need to combine effective and efficient strategies that can be supported by geomatics defined by its comprehensiveness, sustainability and sustainable socio-economic importance. The Global Biodiversity Strategy for successful conservation recognizes this link. For instance, they note that "there must be new contacts and partnerships within communities bringing biologist and resource managers together with social scientists, political leaders, farmers, journalist, artists, planners, teachers and lawyers. There must be a dialogue between central and local governments, industry and citizens groups''. (WRI et. al., 1992:20).

The involvement of citizen groups cannot be overestimated. Hunting and gathering cultures around the world have left carvings and paintings of animals on rocks and in caves, demonstrating the universality of their mystic connections to these animals. Riane Eisler's in her book 'The Chalice & the Blade: Our History, Our Future' (1987) commented that the people of Catal Huyuk and Hacilar (in modern Turkey), drew animal symbols on the walls of their homes and shrines, incised them on pottery, and featured them in sculptures, clay figurines, and bas beliefs. In the case of the Boabeng Fiema Monkey Sanctuary these totems are still prevalent in the cultural practices of the local people who practically are living with these monkeys. Harnessing this unique feature in conservation by combining the use of participatory GIS geomatics within the cultural landscape would be a win-win situation both for the communities, tourist and nature at large.

Jurisdiction Agencies

District Assembly Authority

Ghana Wildlife Service

Forestry Commission

Ministry of Lands and Forestry

Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Environmental Protection Agency

Ghana Tourist Board

Social Groups

Traditional Authorities

Village Opinion and Leaders

Local hunters Association

Farmers Association

Council of Women Leaders

NGO's and Research Institutions

Conservation International

World Wildlife Federation

Ghana Association of Conservation

Friends of the Earth

Tropenbos - Ghana Program

CARE - Livelihood

University of Science and Technology

UNESCO, Ghana.

Ghana Museums and Monument Board

The Research Design Process:

The design process after identifying the location of project and stakeholders would comprise the following phases; 'before fieldwork', 'during fieldwork' and 'after fieldwork as indicated in the charts below.

Chart 1 indicating the research design process

Before filed work the selection and description of indicators to represent 'good governance of project' would be established. These indicators must be relevant, reliable and valid in describing and assessing the complex PGIS processes. Issues like who are the actors or stakeholders, what activities are involved, what GIS tools are needed, what is our output and finally how would the degree of participation be measured should be of prior concern to the project team.

  • Cognitive map (using PRA) showing landmarks, sacred areas, farms, etc
  • Training on GPS tools for survey
  • Survey and community demarcations with local people
  • GIS produced Mapping/Transect walking to determine the boundaries
  • Participatory Inventory map production and validation
  • Map showing Biodiversity Management Zones with Audio files, Photographs and Art. Audio file would include historical references on the sanctuary backed by traditional drum music.

A final consultative meeting would be conducted and synthesized into a Conservation Management Plan for the area. The most appealing aspect of the map is how the various aspects of information are linked together with its respective spatial features. This hotlink would feature audio descriptions of particular descriptions enhancing the images displayed pictorially and in text.

Functions of PGIS for local Villagers

The need for information systems in the wake of renewed global emphasis on local level planning and participatory decision-making makes PGIS imperative. The various aspects of indigenous knowledge, detailed information and impartial analysis are necessary and critical. This project support local cultural relationships and institutions. A clear understanding of the 'insider and outsiders' of indigenous spatial knowledge is essential. The vernacular technical knowledge, social and detailed spatial knowledge belonging to the people is solicited to help control the overall conservation plan. Traditional methods of resource management and decision making are highlighted whilst traditional records and documents are preserved for future reference. With its potential tourist appeal information gathered through PGIS will expose the investment potential of the area and also provide an advanced platform for marketing the sanctuary to generate cash.

Evaluation and Analysis

Chart 2 indicating the PGIS cycle

Typical in the research area is the issue of poverty. Many attempts were made by governments to improve the situation however, these activities are scattered in time and lack of coordination. There is a need for a common medium of detailed conservation plan which would lead to common understanding between different involved parties. It is anticipated that the spatial information, maps and the necessary practices involved in the preparation of a PGIS through the PGIS cycle would be help them address these needs.

The issue of cost cannot be underestimated in the PGIS process. In the face of scarcity of resources and basic needs, using PGIS for database generation can seem luxuries beyond sensible search for opportunities. The cost of raw data capture, equipments, software, training of human resources and other institutional costs counts as challenge to its implementation. One would not be far from right if the cost for data collection, maintenance and human resource training becomes much greater than the cost for hardware and software.

Who funds these costs, the locals, central governments, NGO's, or private sector? Participatory resource maps are usually spatially confined to the social, cultural and economic domains of those who produce it. Thus, in the case in the case of the Buabeng-Fiema sanctuary where monkey habitat cross over to another administrative jurisdiction the production of a sufficient number of community-specific sketch maps becomes unrealistic from both practical and financial points of view. Then also experience has shown that bureaucracies tend to pay little attention to informal documents, including sketch maps. In this case the translation of these local maps into officially authoritative information may not be enthusiastically available.

It is however expected that an appropriate use of a CODA (Conservation Options and Decision Analysis) digital decision making tool would assist the conflict resolution process. CODA is a relatively affordable DSS software designed to provide a framework and a set of tools to aid in the conservation planning process. Its iterative or minimum set algorithm helps identify the smallest or least costly set of selections that fulfills conservation requirements especially for poor peoples. The CODA system produces a network of areas which meet specified conservation objectives which the user may modify the network produced and "iterate" to an acceptable solution as explained by Bedward in his introduction to CODA [4] It is hoped that CODA could be used to perform successive analyses, using the results of each test as the basis for further research which has been noted as a weakness to PGIS.


The implicit assumptions addressed by this paper are that articulating PGIS at the local level to conserve biodiversity is very essential. It is an effective tool which combines strategic processes and tools to meet local people's needs. However a conscious effort has to be made to reorient the community as well as the technology to demonstrate the linkages of PGIS and its potential in solving the community problems. Simultaneously, a unique and affordable user-technology interface will have to be developed to ensure sustainability of the concept especially in making sure that the needs of the local people are actually met. Moreover, the success of such concepts should not be measured in terms of development of participatory interactive maps or creation of a low cost affordable PGIS maps but should be measured in terms of the evolved consciousness of the people of Buabeng, Fiema and Dotobaa towards the proper use of the Monkey Sanctuary.

Literature Cited:

Beattle John. (1964). Other cultures, Aims, Methods of Achievements of social Anthropology, London.

Conservation International, (2000). 'Assessment of Bushmeat Trade during the annual closed season on hunting in Ghana'. CI & FAO Publication & Collaboration

Chapin M, Lamb Z, Threlkeld B., (2005). ­Mapping Indigenous Lands. Annual Review of Anthropology. Vol. 34: 619-638

Eisler, Riane (1987). The Chalice & the Blade: Our History, Our FutureHarper & Row.Fargey, PJ (1992). Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary. An example of traditional conservation in Ghana. Oryx. Vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 151-156. . New York:

Heit, M. and A. Shortreid, Eds. (1991). GIS applications in natural resource. Colorado, GIS World.

IUCN 2004. 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. >. Checked on 30 March 2006.

McCall, M. K. (2003f). Participation in spatial planning for Environmental planning & Natural resource management. Enschede, the Netherlands, ITC.

Oates, J.F., M. Abedi-Lartey, W.S. McGraw, T.T. Struhsaker, and G.H. Whitesides, 2000, 'Extinction of a West African Red Colobus Monkey', Conservation Biology, Vol.14, No.5.

Preliminary Assessment of a Conflict Resolution Case in the Philippines. ASEAN Biodiversity, Vol. 2 No. 1, 17-26. ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity Conservation (ARCBC), Los BaƱos, Philippines. Access date: 5 June 2003.WRI (1992). Global Biodiversity Strategy. World Conservation Union and United Nations Environmental Program. Washington DC.: World Resources institute

Rambaldi, G., S. Bugna, et al. (2002). Bringing the vertical dimension to the negotiating table - Preliminary assessment of a conflict resolution case in the Philippines, Asean Biodiversity, Online [PDF, 803 KB, 10 pages] file;

Sarpong P, (1974). Ghana in Retrospect. Some aspects of culture of Ghanaian culture. Ghana Publishing Corporation.

WTO, (1999) Tourism Marketing Trends Africa 1989-1998. World Tourism Organization & Commission for Africa.