How Crowdsourced Maps Hope to Save the African Rainforest

We know it’s there, but we can’t see it.

Such is the unfortunate circumstance surrounding many of the environmental and social problems facing the developing world.

Before international communication was as accessible as it is today, the only way many Westerners learned about the developing world was through the personal accounts of those who had lived or visited the regions in question. Places like Central Africa, South-East Asia, and Central South America were lands masked by the unknown. Because of this, the concerned parties attempting to solve the complex issues that faced these areas had to grapple with the issue of framing solutions onto an unclear picture of what was happening on the ground.

We know it’s there, but we can’t access it.

But then Al Gore invented the internet (or something like that), and literally everything changed. Now, information on almost anywhere in the world is available in near real-time, and enables faster and more accurate decision-making. Still, large swaths of the developing world lack either reliable internet access, or access of any kind. Areas like these are still subject to the same problems of inaccuracy and misinformation when it comes to policy making.

We know it’s there, but we can’t help it.

This is the exact issue faced for those trying to curb the blight of illegal logging and poaching in Africa’s Congo Basin. The world’s second largest uninterrupted rainforest is under siege from those exploiting its rich natural resources, diminishing the inherent biodiversity in the region. Unlike in the Amazon, where illegal logging has been declining due to diligent mapping and better law enforcement, the unauthorized timber industry in the Congo Basin has grown out of control over the last few decades.

cifor_wood_market2 (1)

Timber extraction is one of the main industries in the Congo Basin.

The main actor behind this rapid growth is the presence of a network of legal and illegal logging roads that checker the Basin’s forested land. These roads, aside from bolstering illegal timber extraction, enable poachers easier access to the deep forest, in addition to breaking up wildlife paths through the forest. At this point, the countries impacted don’t have the information readily available to support policy making. This has made progress to stop the illegal extraction non-existent. Until now, there hasn’t been an available solution.


Enter the Logging Roads Initiative. Designed from a partnership between natural resource specialists at Global Forest Watch and Moabi DRC, the Logging Roads Initiative aims to map all of the logging and forestry roads in the Congo Basin so that officials can make better decisions about how to cull illicit timber extraction. Using OpenStreetMap, the world’s largest crowd-generated mapping platform, the Logging Roads Initiative is using users on the ground in the Congo Basin and around the world to better map these roads, and hopefully allow for lawmakers to help stop illegal logging.


A time-lapse shows the growth of the roads (in blue).

But they can’t do it alone.

As a member of the small team working on this project, I am making a request: If everyone who has read this far can map just five roads, we can have all of the Congo Basin mapped in no time at all. This would help those in the region make impactful decisions on how to address the problems these roads cause, but without a comprehensive map they can only make broad assumptions. No prior mapping experience is needed, and the Logging Roads Initiative website, in partnership with OpenStreetMap, gives you an easy, beginner-friendly guide on how to contribute to the project. Your work on this project will be forever saved in the OpenStreetMap database.

All it takes is ten minutes to make a real difference. You can can be the catalyst.

We know it’s there, now let’s fix it.

Links for those interested:

The Logging Roads Initiative


Global Forest Watch

Moabi DRC


– Ben Kessler


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