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Authors: Fbio Pedro Bandeira, Jocimara Lobo, Thiago Cardoso,

Luciana Porter-Bolland & Ximena Velez Liendo



Landscape perception and computer modelling in
participatory mapping efforts in Latin America
The policy implications of COMBIOSERVE, an EU-funded project in communitybased conservation in Latin America
January 2015

Computer modelling is a contemporary tool for landscape analysis. It has an important
application for the analysis and understanding of future scenarios. These are tools that
are increasingly in demand by indigenous and traditional peoples in Latin America,
either for negotiating the recognition of their rights or for planning to care for the
The use of geo-technology in computer modelling can contribute to data analysis and
the construction of models that enable the analysis of future scenarios helping to
evaluate the management of landscapes and territories. Models can be utilized to
analyse and predict resources use in space, as well as its dynamics and density, it can
also help us understand landscape dynamics, or the characteristics of soils and
topography, as well as to demarcate the scale of environmental conflicts.
Participatory mapping has emerged as a method for collecting and analysing
geographic information through co-research, making use of the interaction between
multiple forms of knowledge. Mapping is a tool that aids within contexts of socioenvironmental conflict and for coping for land use change and environmental
management processes within indigenous and rural territories. Co-research implies the
creation of a space in which indigenous or community members and external
researchers collectively interact, in this case for the production of mapping processes.
Such a collaborative possibility not only has relevant ethical implications, but it also has
the potential to derive into new perspectives for participatory mapping (such as social
and collaborative cartographies).
Local people and organizations, including many social movements for social and
environmental change, are embracing these tools and incorporating them into their
local knowledge. These people are not only mere receptors of these tools but may
tactically or strategically use them and rework them for local needs. The use of maps,
GIS tools, and participatory territorial monitoring, among others, may be taken as
Main Focus
This policy brief presents the key concepts and the methodology and information
needed in order to integrate community perception and computer modelling for
analysing and generating potential scenarios and concrete actions for landscape
The main focus is on the uses of computer geo-technology for participatory or ethnomapping mapping for landscape analysis with indigenous and traditional peoples in
Latin America. It is based on the COMBIOSERVE experience regarding the use of
geo-technology and participatory mapping techniques. The policy brief also illustrates
the possible applications of this methodology to policy making and CSOs.



Computer Modelling
for Participatory Mapping
What does this mean?
A model is a simplified representation of reality. A map is therefore a model
representing a cartographic reproduction of terrain, earth or world. Computational
modelling can be used for generating models using digital databases organized
according to different information. Technological advances have hugely increased the
possibilities for modelling.
In line with this logic, computer models may be created using a database of traditional
knowledge. Geo-technology or espatialisation technology is fundamental to this
process and has significantly enhanced the possibilities for generating scenarios and
Computerized tools for the analysis of spatial data, Geographic Information Systems
(GIS), or Geographic Participative Information Systems (GPIS) also known as
EthnoGIS, have been used into mapping experiences associated with ethnoecological
and ethnobiological knowledge in order to analyse landscapes and specific territories.
The construction of maps also provides an opportunity to conduct reflective processes
with communities. It involves self-recognition and the valuing of territories and ways of
life. In other words, it is way for the members of an indigenous community to analyse
their context and plan their future.
Through the rich process of collective construction and of maps, the community creates
a Geographic Information System based on their knowledge of their local environment.
This system is a product that can be continuously expanded by community experiences
and used for diverse purposes, ranging from the training of young people and joint
learning to monitoring, planning, and management of their territory.

Step by step
The process of constructing computer models based on traditional knowledge is
difficult and methodologically controversial, since its concept is defined during the
process. In other words, there is no method or common format for its preparation. As
a guide, certain steps may be followed, although not necessarily in a sequential order.

First step the beginning is always the communitys desire to participate or

mobilize itself for the mapping experience. Community predisposition and
initiative must therefore be present.
Second step this is the definition of: What to map? Why map? And, for
Third step - the definition of pathways How to make maps? This is a rich and
important stage, which must be constantly re-evaluated throughout the process,
and must consider the possibility of changing the definitions of step two.
Fourth step - what type of data to incorporate which data may be
incorporated and constructed? Traditional knowledge should not only be seen
as data or spatial content, since it is based on other practical and cosmological
Fifth step the challenge of how to convert traditional knowledge data into
digital data. Conversion requires an acceptance of the idea that cartographic
dialogue is subject to mistakes and misunderstandings, which is both a limiting
factor of this practice and a challenge.


The possibilities of data or information that can be used for building an ethnoSIG is
presented in Table 2. Traditional knowledge that can most easily be incorporated into
Computer Modelling is always what can be geo-referenced in the field, as well as maps
drawn over satellite images. This information was used in the COMBIOSERVE Project
in Brazil, Mexico and Bolivia.
Figure 1 exemplifies the process of generating ethno-maps by superimposing satellite
images with other information. The process can be conducted with different ends. An
example of a model that was generated in COMBIOSERVE had the objective of
representing the areas that the Pataxo community uses ant that are still not
incorporated or recognized into the Indigenous Territory of Coroa Vermelha in the
Southern Bahia, Brazil.



Conversation circles,
Open walks,
Workshops, Ethnomaps,
Timelines, Conflict

Technical & scientific


Pre-existing maps,
Satellite images,
Cartographic databases,
Digital land models,
Other data


Digitizing and georeferencing

Generating computer

Figure 1: Flow chart demonstrating the development of an EthnoGIS.

However, there is no single methodology, nor have any definitions been made for such
a construction, which must always be a continuous process. Data must preferably be
geo-referenced by a geo-positioning system (GPS), although other alphanumeric data,
or even videos and photos forming the database, can also be used. Previous
experiences demonstrate that the Computer Modelling multiples data and that there are
several possibilities.


Table 2 Possibilities for GIS and Traditional Knowledge data






Mental maps Flow charts



Fieldwork in participatory mapping

(Data: traditional

Reports by elders
(Data: traditional

Free walks
(Data: traditional

activities in schools
(Data: multiple

(Data: multiple

(Data: traditional

(Data: traditional

Computer Modelling in participatory mapping

Remote sensing
(Data: cartographic

(Data: cartographic

Pre-existing maps
(Data: cartographic

Digital image
(Data: multiple

Modelling of data in
(Data: multiple


Southern Bahia, Brazil

Before understanding the changes that have occurred to land use in the Patax territory, we sought to establish
forums of discussion to integrate the techniques of indigenous mapping (based on memory and environmental
markers of space) and scientific mapping (with GPS, satellite images and GIS).

Figure 2.Ethno-map of the Coroa Vermelha

Indigenous Territory, made on the satellite
image; Figure 2. Ethno-GIS, produced by
Karaj and the geographer Jocimara Lobo, of
the Coroa Vermelha Indigenous Territory and
the areas claimed by the Patax - the result of
superimposing onto the satellite image of the

Participatory mapping was included in this process as an instrument

for intercultural dialogue regarding the Patax indigenous territory.
The collective production of maps enabled us to locate and define
environments, conflicts, histories, networks of exchange, residencies,
borders, hunting areas, areas for the removal of timber, areas of
Catumbai activity (a mythological Patax being, protector of the
forests), old and recent trails, bodies of water and their quality, as well
as several other geographical features of the territory and their
The Patax community researchers produced ethno-maps of their
territory (Figure 1) and, during a visit to the UEFS Geo-processing
Laboratory, incorporated GPS points into them, which had been
recorded during walks through trails in the Jaqueira Reserve that
encompassed various types of vegetation. The Patax were able to
learn how to generate this data using GIS. Satellite images of the
area were also used to produce maps, by superimposing georeferenced transparent paper onto the image.
One of the principal results of this experience was the effective
appropriation by the Patax leaders who participated in the
COMBIOSERVE project, of these products (maps, networks of
conflict, analysis of changes to land use, etc.).. Their particular
interest was a political demand for the recognition of their territorial
rights, and to derive tools that could aid in their discussion forums with
other indigenous Patax leaders from the south of Bahia.
At the end of the project, community researchers had modelled what
they considered to be their Patax territory within Coroa Vermelha
(Figure 2), based on both ethno-maps resulting from participatory
mapping workshops and on the map produced by superimposing
them onto satellite images. This ideal territory is what the Patax are
currently demanding to the Federal Government.

Pilon Lajas, Bolivia

As in Brazil, participatory mapping was initially undertaken at Pilon
Lajas to produce ethno-maps of the indigenous territory and their
resources. Ethnomaps were based on indigenous perception and
knowledge (Figure 3).
Training in GIS and GPS was provided to a group of five
community researchers from Alto Colorado. Training consisted on
briefly teaching the theoretical foundations of GPS, GIS and the
interpretation of satellite images. Field practice was then
conducted, whereby the community researchers learned to handle
the instrument, how to record points, how to track routes and how
to return to the recorded point.
Project fieldwork lasted ten months. During this time, the
community researchers were able to model what was then called
the Area of Action (Figure 3), based on points recorded using
GPS, as well as on their knowledge of the territory. This area of
action includes areas that where some distance away from the
community, where community members usually hunt and fish.

Figure 3. Different perspectives of the territorial

representation of the Tsimane community of Alto
Colorado, Pilon Lajas, Bolivia.


The communities within the Pilon Lajas Biosphere Reserve do not have
predetermined borders. However, an internal arrangement of their limitas
exists between these communities. The collected data was stored in the
GPS and in field notebooks. Once the work was completed this data was
sent to the academic researcher and the maps were constructed.

Figure 4. The Alto de Colorado

communitys Area of Action.

Running in parallel to this activity were workshops held with the

community to construct ethno-maps that reflect the communitys spatial
knowledge about resources, although this occurred on a different scale.
The use of non-indigenous mapping techniques as well as tools such as
GPS enabled the community researchers to extend and refine their
knowledge regarding their own community. In this way, using the data
that the community researchers collected over the 10 month period of
fieldwork, a map of the area of action was constructed this is a vast area
including rivers and lakes, which were not initially included in the
communitys ethno-maps (Figure 4).
The community mapping demonstrated to be an effective instrument to
generate maps that reflect the local knowledge about the territory and the
distribution of natural resources in the community, as recorded in the
groups collective memory. Furthermore, by combining the community
mapping and technology, such as the satellite images and GPS, that the
community was able to increase the experience and knowledge regarding
its territory, which will support future environmental management.
Calakmul, Mexico
In the Mexican site, it was chosen an example of participatory mapping
and modelling of the territory in order to demonstrate how the combination
of satellite image and ethno-map produced a map of the community and
its natural resources with the participation of community researchers.
The foundation for drawing the community was a satellite image (Figure
5). Over this, both the community and external researchers drew different
layers on the printed image (Figure 6). The layers showed the
communitys borders and the urban area, the rivers and pathways (layer
1), and all natural resources and used areas (layer 2).
The colours of the image are based on vegetation cover, which helps
locate the forest, cornfields (milpas) and other land uses. As a result, a
map was obtained with information about the territory and its natural
The community mapping method served to draw up ethno-maps that
contain all the important and relevant information about the community
and its territory. However, the distances, proportions and sizes in these
maps are relative, since the communitys cultural scale is based on a
perception of space that relates to measurements of the time taken to
move from one point to another, rather than on a defined metric
measurements. The utilization of a method that combines the advantages
of participatory mapping with those using satellite images increases the
capacity to model the territory and enables improved management.
Nowadays, access to satellite images is easier than in the past; some are
free, although those of higher quality are more expensive. Processing
these images requires a computer and specialized programmes and, in
the case of this project, which worked with printed maps, required an
adequate printer and knowledge about how to create maps based on
satellite images and how to use the software. Often it is the external
researchers who possess this information, although community
researchers are also able to learn how to operate such programmes.

Figure 5. Map based on a satellite image of

the Once de Mayo community; Landsat 7
image from 2012. This map served as the
foundation that was integrated with the
communitys ethno-map.

Figure 6. Map of the Once de Mayo

community and its natural resources,
drawn on transparent paper on top of a
Landsat 2012 satellite image. This map
contains a title, key and authors and
indicates the neighbouring communities.




The convergence and tensions between knowledge assumes the need for an
attitude of respect. In other words, it treats seriously the different protocols and
assumptions that the various knowledge traditions may have. For this, we
recommend that participatory mapping processes that intend to use geo-technology
incorporate methodological approaches from anthropology and ethnoecology, such
as collaborative ethnography, which can be useful tools for communication.

A great challenge is to translate different types of knowledge through maps. For this
reason, we must evaluate what is and what is not important for spatialisation, since
each map has its own intentionality; in other words, it serves with an objective.
Thus, in each situation a rigorous study based in geographical criteria should define
what type of data or information can be spatialised.

Integrating new mapping technologies into the traditional ways in which these
communities live and think about their spaces should not involve a reduction of the
differences . On the contrary, it should strengthen it. In other words, in traditional
mapping, the process should always be the most important aspect. In this case, in
participative mapping experiences that utilize computer technology and modelling, it
is important to provide training that enables an understanding of the potential for this
techniques and to have meetings and workshops that enable knowledge dialogue.

Its essential to reflect on the necessity or even relevance of the transposition of

traditional knowledge into geographical data base. If we consider that process is
always more important than product (maps and modelling), it can be seen that it is
better to preserve this knowledge. Thus, these traditional communities can define
their own processes or products at their own pace. GISs are of fundamental
importance in a context in which intercultural dialogue is also strengthened on
products, since local people appropriate geo-processing techniques and joint
learning about their territory takes place. In this case, the use of computerized tools
to produce maps may contribute to the environmental and territorial management of
indigenous peoples facilitating their interaction with policy makers

In this context, a GIS that incorporates traditional knowledge may contain preexisting data or data constructed by a wide range of government bodies, academia
or others. However, due to its nature, data may originate from various sources and
include a range of types. However, despite the numerous possibilities for data
sources, an ontological limits prevail:
Technical scientific knowledge tends to enumerate, classify, define and
conceptualize information, and subsequently abstract reality to transform it into a
model. According to this logic, GISs are hugely important. However, it is not
possible to generalize the measurements, classifications and definitions of
cartographic knowledge to traditional knowledge.



Dr. Christian Vogl


Dr. Gary J. Martin (co-coordinator), Global Diversity Foundation, United


University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Austria BOKU

Dr. Esteve Corbera, Universitat Autnoma de Barcelona, Spain

Dr. Mark Koetse, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Dr. Luciana Porter-Bolland, Instituto de Ecologa, Mexico
Dr. Fabio Bandeira, Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana, Brazil
Dr. Susana Arrazola, Universidad Mayor de San Simn, Bolivia
Mr. Albert M. Chan, Consejo Regional Indgena y Popular de Xpujil,
Ms. Jos Augusto Laranjeiras, Associao Nacional de Ao Indigenista,
Dr. Tomas Huanca, Centro Boliviano de Desarrollo y de Investigacin
Socio Integral, Bolivia

EU contact

Ugo Guarnacci. Email:

Funding scheme

European Union 7th Framework Programme, Research for the

benefit of CSOs, Theme: ENV.2011.4.2.3-1 Community based
management of environmental challenges.


January 2012 January 2015


EC Contribution: 1,897,883.40


For more information

Contact Dr. Fbio Pedro Bandeira. Email:

Further reading

BANDEIRA, F. P. et al. Participatory mapping: reflections, paths and

trails. Ed. Mil Folhas. Braslia. 2015. In press..