Global conference in Lake Toba, Indonesia, highlights multiple benefits of community mapping for indigenous peoples

Participants at the global workshop on mapping and CBMIS, Lake Toba, Indonesia

Global conference in Lake Toba, Indonesia, highlights multiple benefits of community mapping for indigenous peoples

110 representatives of indigenous peoples, community mapping experts and members of support NGOs and academia from 17 countries in Asia, Latin America, the Pacific, North America and Europe, gathered together from 25 -28 August 2013 in the traditional territory of the Batak at Lake Toba in Indonesia, to share and learn from their diverse experiences in community participatory mapping as an instrument to help them assert and claim their rights to lands, territories and resources. 

The conference was followed by a field visit to Pandumaan, a community whose livelihood - which is based on harvesting resin from benzoin trees - has been severely affected by a land dispute with the pulp producer PT Toba Pulp Lestari (read more here: and by a 3-day workshop on community-based monitoring and information systems (CBMIS). 

During the conference, community mapping experts shared experiences from on-the-ground mapping projects in 12 countries and discussed changes in community mapping practices and the use of new tools in mapping, information and communication technologies. Discussions were also held about underlying risks in sharing traditional knowledge across different knowledge and legal systems and the need for ethical guidelines on the use and protection of traditional knowledge in relation to mapping, data-storage and information sharing.

The participants agreed that maps can be used for a wide range of purposes, including:

  • Delineation and demarcation of indigenous territories and lands; 
  • Obtaining titles to ancestral lands and domains; 
  • Enabling self-determined development;
  • Identifying diverse land use and monitoring of land and resource use changes; tracking the extent of use or decline of traditional knowledge, indigenous languages and customary governance; 
  • Monitoring biodiversity and ecosystem integrity;
  • Resolution of conflicts related to boundary, water and land disputes; 
  • Development of territorial management plans; and advocating for policy reforms.

The conference also highlighted that map-making and maps are a means and not an end and cannot be stand-alone instruments disconnected from cultural frameworks (including indigenous cosmovisions) and community purposes and uses. Mapping should therefore be carried out in conjunction with other processes, e.g. community organising, natural resources inventories, management and monitoring, advocacy, and indigenous peoples’ sustainable self-determined development. It was also pointed out that there is no blueprint for mapping technology and the choice of technology depends on purpose, environment, available capacities and likely sustainability. The Training Kit on participatory mapping practice, produced by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), was recognised as a useful basis to develop a toolkit for indigenous mappers.

The participants agreed to set up a Global Network of Indigenous Peoples on Mapping and Monitoring and started to define how to engage in relevant international processes, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, the post-2015 development agenda and the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  

The conference also took action, through the Toba Declaration, to support the indigenous peoples of Indonesia’s demand for the government to take immediate actions to implement the constitutional Court Ruling No 35/PUU-X/2012 concerning the recognition of customary forests, including through accelerated mapping of such forests, and for the Parliament of Indonesia to immediately adopt the law on the Recognition and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous peoples (Undang-Undang Pengakuan dan Perlindungan Hak-Hak Masyarakat Adat). 

Further information: