Cutting edge spatial technology guides Peace Parks Foundation’s approach to planning
Detailed maps and an extensive database of southern Africa’s protected areas, overlayed with socio-economic and environmental variables from global data sets, are used to guide the development of zoning and management plans. Data sets can be adapted and interrogated interactively to provide instant scenarios and answers. These datasets and information often guide the stakeholder debates between the various role players and allow for a participatory approach and of drawing on the participants' expertise.
In Mozambique GIS-based participatory resource mapping was instrumental in realigning the boundary of Limpopo National Park’s buffer zone to support the livelihoods of 20 000 people living along its eastern and southern boundaries. Within the five kilometre wide buffer zone surrounding the park, communities can utilise natural resources in a sustainable way in collaboration with park management. The possibility that the buffer zone was not broad enough prompted the Mozambican government to task the Foundation with mapping the resource areas each village used for collecting firewood and grazing cattle. In the end, the livelihood of local communities was paramount in determining the final park boundary.
GIS mapping also helps the Foundation to identify areas that are ecologically important in terms of their biodiversity, climate, soil, water, fuel, food provision and recreational value. The contribution made by southern Africa’s peace parks to the protection of critical ecosystem services (defined as the human benefits derived from natural environments, such as clean air and water, healthy soil, timber, food production, protection from extreme weather, filtration of pollutants and regulation of the earth’s climate) is another important application of the Foundation’s GIS mapping service.
In more recent times the Foundation has focused on making these mapped media more accessible to interested parties following the work on transboundary conservation. This has included the development of online map services using ESRI ArcGIS for Server technology (Peace Parks Foundation is a proud member of the ESRI Conservation Programme). These services allow the Foundation to showcase the Integrated development of management plans and sharing of spatial information pertinent to conservation planning and biodiversity.
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In order to track progress and the state of health of the various TFCAs, the Foundation’s GIS has developed a tool to assist with the monitoring and evaluation of generic indicators which allow for the mapping of progress (or lack thereof) of the various TFCAs. These monitoring, evaluation and reporting tools are used by TFCA and protected area decision makers and by various governmental authorities. They are also used by the Foundation in progress reports to donors.
The Foundation has offered basic GIS and GPS training at the Southern Africa Wildlife College (SAWC) for the past 13 years. The value of GIS as a conservation tool is thereby shared with fellow conservationists and environmental organisations in the region. During the past three years a more advanced GIS course has been offered to cater for those who have started making use of GIS in their work places and are moving up the ranks and seeking more advanced ways of analysing spatial information. Annually, four courses - two basic and two more advanced - are run at the Southern African Wildlife College. Each course touches on the technologies of GPS and remote sensing, as well as monitoring and evaluation tools. To date, more than 850 students from the region have been trained.