The Wapichan community is using drones to monitor their land and fight against illegal logging an mining.
Thanks to YouTube DIY tutorials, the Wapichan community in the south of Guyana has proven illegal logging and mining in their ancestral land.
They did it with the collaboration of Digital Democracy an NGO which empowers marginalized communities to use technology to defend their rights. They received a camera donated by GoPro and a Mission Planner open source flight software.
The drone can fly a 50km distance with its camera taking pictures every 2 minutes. It has a fixed-wing design, and a white triangle with an ironed laminated cover. The homemade drone was made using scrap objects like plastic and a drill made out of lollipop sticks.
The community monitored and mapped their land. Two and a half days after the drone was operational results were visible. The images showed illegal logging happening in the southeast of the country, where the land is supposed to be protected.
Also in the southeast of the Shulinab region, the Marundi Mountain appeared to be leaching pollution into the headwaters of the Wachipan.
The evidence helps to prove the government these illegal practices the community has been denouncing ever since titling of indigenous land began in 1977. According to local leaders only 15% of their land has been granted.
Guyana has the second highest percentage of rainforest cover, which is being endangered by illegal practices. Corruption engulfing the country and government plans to open another mine in a sacred site of the Wachipan community is concerning.
In an interview with Quartz Nicholas Fredericks, the leader of the South Rupununi's Shulinab village said,“without our lands, our futures are in jeopardy.” The Wachipan is one in 9 indigenous groups in Guyana.
“This initiative is purely our initiative, our people can actually see and understand for themselves what is really happening.” With the drones they see inaccessible areas and keep a register of the violations of protected lands.
With 9000 people the tribe has been unsuccessful in receiving support from the government.
Nonetheless they've gained international recognition for their work in defending their forests. In November 2015, representatives from the tribe received the Equator Prize from the UNPD. They've also joined global campaigns in support of indigenous peoples and community land rights.
On the other hand, Digital democracy has been working with other communities in Ecuador, Mexico and Haiti.