The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) needs a comprehensive map of development. The country holds the largest contiguous block of rainforest outside of Brazil, but as the map below illustrates, much of the remaining forest falls under mining, oil and logging permits. Illegal and unsustainable logging is widespread, including in a number of areas supported by the USAID Central African Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE).
Secretive land deals risk creating conflict with forest-dependent communities and contributing to climate change by driving deforestation. Without transparent development mapping, it is not possible to monitor deforestation and avoid major greenhouse gas emissions. For example, a massive peatland bog was recently mapped and quantified by scientists from the University of Leeds and University College London. If the DRC government converts it to industrial agriculture, it could release millions of tons of methane into the atmosphere.
Since 2011, Moabi DRC, a collaborative mapping initiative, has made maps and mapping tools more widely available to civil society and government agencies in DRC. Moabi, primarily funded by the Norway International Climate and Forest Initiative, uses a combination of open source mapping technology and data partnerships and works through local organizations to make land-use maps widely available to civil society.
How it works
Moabi is implemented through two DRC-based organizations: OSFAC (Observatoire Satellital des Forêts d'Afrique Centrale), a forest monitoring organization supported by CARPE, and Forest Governance Observatory, DRC’s mandated independent forest monitor. Moabi’s partners collect information from a consortium of organizations, including government ministries, local and international NGOs and private companies. Data is loaded onto an open source mapping site and updated as new information becomes available. It also provides a story-writing feature so local civil society can publish stories about topics affecting communities, such as grievances with logging companies.
Moabi was the first portal to put planning data into the public domain. It published the first maps of oil permits, REDD+ projects, agriculture plantations, hydropower projects and logging roads. It also provided analysis of how overlapping development was undermining REDD+ projects and how industrial agriculture could drive deforestation. The platform is complemented by other mapping platforms such as the USAID and World Resources Institute-supported Ministry of Environment’s Forest Atlas, Rainforest Foundation UK’s Mapping for Rights project and InterNews’ InfoCongo.
First, Moabi focused on environmental topics, which siloed our data priorities. This limited appeal to humanitarian and development organizations, who have their own data priorities. Second, Moabi required software developers to update, which made changes time-consuming and expensive. Third, Moabi, like most non-profit mapping platforms, is difficult to sustain solely on grant funding due to shifting donor priorities.
Taking Moabi’s lessons to the Private Sector
With these lessons learned, we founded a technology startup called MapHubs. The goal was to make user-friendly mapping platforms more widely accessible for organizations conducting mapping. Our approach was the reverse of Moabi. Rather than asking users to come to us with their data, MapHubs brings the mapping portal to those users. Since its founding in 2017, MapHubs has provided a range of mapping portals to organizations and companies working on deforestation. MapHubs has also established mapping platforms for nonprofits, such as the Carter Center’s Congo Mines, as well as for development agencies like Germany’s GIZ and for oil palm companies such as Feronia.
Launching the Moabi “Open Congo” Initiative
Later this year, we will update Moabi DRC with a new MapHubs-powered platform called Open Congo. Open Congo aims to provide the most comprehensive and regularly updated map of development in DRC. It will provide tools for local civil society to find and share data, make maps, tell their stories and conduct forest loss analysis. The platform will be geared toward all development actors, not just environmental organizations. And to avoid the pitfalls of donor funding, we are building a membership model where international organizations and donors pay a membership fee so that the platform remains free for local civil society.
We hope Open Congo provides DRC with a handy road map for achieving its sustainable development goals. For more information, please email us at info[at]moabi.org.
Leo Bottrill is the founder and CEO of MapHubs, Inc., a Washington DC-based company, dedicated to making maps more accessible to everyone. Leo has 15+ years of experience in the environment and development sector including over five years working in field conservation in Vietnam and Indonesia.
Prior to MapHubs, Leo started the awarding winning Moabi DRC initiative (rdc.moabi.org) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Implemented through local partners, Moabi DRC is a comprehensive public database on land use in DRC. Leo has worked and consulted for organizations from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Fauna and Flora International, UNEP, and the World Resources Institute. He holds an MA in Geography from the University of St. Andrews and an MSc in Environmental Technology from Imperial College London.