LandMark: More than just maps, but a dream becoming reality

Thursday, April 12, 2018

We talked with Richard Smith,  Executive Manager of Instituto del Bien Comun (IBC), about the development of LandMark and the dream behind this global initiative. 

LandMark is the first global, interactive online platform offering maps with accurate information on collectively-used land and territories owned by Indigenous Peoples and communities.

Richard Smith, Executive Manager of Instituto del Bien Comun (IBC), a member organization of ILC and of the LandMark operative team, shared with us the experience leading the platform to become a reality. Join us to learn more about it.

The beginning of a dream

During the early 90s, information and communication technologies (ICT) were mostly unknown and its use for development initiatives very limited. Despite this, Richard Smith – an OXFAM member at the time - realized of the benefits that Geographic Information Systems (GIS) [1] could bring to indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon:

"In 93 or 94, we were doing a series of investigations in Oxfam related to Indigenous Peoples. One of the topics chosen was the indigenous economy and the market. (...) I insisted on using maps with GIS to show and illustrate which economic problems and where, to start recollecting information to help to solve them." (Richard Smith, IBC)​

At the end of the 1990s, already with more developed technological tools, Richard continued working with GIS, completing the first geo-referenced database of Indigenous Peoples in Peru: the Sistema de Información de Comunidades Nativas de la Amazonía Peruana (SICNA), which was transferred to the Instituto del Bien Común (IBC)[2]when the institution was founded in 1998. The aim was to continue promoting land use planning and defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples, contributing, among other things, to the process of native communities land titling and to the protection of voluntarily-isolated Indigenous Peoples in the Peruvian Amazon.

"We started visiting communities with organizations and indigenous federations, geo-referencing their maps boundaries, collecting information and copies of titles in each community. Once the communities were mapped it was already possible to show more detailed information: mining, oil, timber concessions or roads. It was possible, for the first time, to understand what was happening and where, and which threats and pressures the communities were facing ". (Richard Smith, IBC)​

Expanding the work to show the reality of communities in the Amazon region

In 2007, IBC and eight other organizations from Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela saw the opportunity to share what they have learned with GIS, with the aim of generating information and creating maps that could show the reality of indigenous communities throughout the Amazon basin in Latin America. Thus the Amazon Network of Geo-referenced Socio-Environmental Information Red Amazónica de Información Socio ambiental Georreferenciada (RAISG).

"There are some differences between countries, so it has been a process of knowledge and learning, where people from different countries sit at a table, dialogue and develop legends to represent the different realities of Amazonian peoples and communities." (Richard Smith, IBC)​

In 2012, IBC was part of an international space for dialogue promoted by the International Land Coalition (ILC), Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and Oxfam International. The SICNA-IBC and RAISG experience was shared, as well as the commitments and work of other organizations around the world.

Counting with the regional experience of creating RAISG, it was considered to extend, through a new online tool, the work with geo-referenced maps to globally defend territorial rights of communities. These were the bases for the creation of LandMark.

Birth of the LandMark global online community


In 2013 and with ILC support, IBC and the World Resources Institute (WRI) gathered 12 organizations from different countries with experience in mapping and databases of communal lands. The aim was the creation of a global platform to give greater visibility to the situation of Indigenous Peoples land rights.

LandMark was born. In 2015 the platform, built on the basis of IBC, WRI, ILC, and other organizations´experiences, fue lanzada a nivel mundial. Desde entonces, ha servido para hacer pública la situación de las comunidades y los pueblos indígenas alrededor del mundo. LandMark ha evidenciado la importancia de la defensa de los territorios de los pueblos indígenas y comunidades, sirviendo también como herramienta para la exigibilidad de derechos.

What is the use of LandMark?

The information collected by LandMark serves as a tool to empower Indigenous Peoples and communities in order to ensure their territorial rights. It is also an enforceability instrument for defenders, providing indisputable and transparent information which can be used to exert pressure on reforms, or deter the actions of governments undermining any protection processes of communal territories.

LandMark currently receives worldwide information from more than 70 institutions and organizations and has mapped 1.15 million indigenous and community areas. These areas sum up the 11.3% of all the land on the planet. However, there still exists a big information gap.

"It is a task that requires the support of all interested organizations concerned about the issue. If you are an organization that uses maps, please contact us and share your information. If you are an organization that defends indigenous rights, but you're not working with maps, find out who make maps and let us know." (Richard Smith, IBC)

LandMark needs support!

To continue publicizing relevant information to make visible the situation of Indigenous Peoples and communities around the world, LandMark needs the support of diverse organizations.

For this reason, ILC calls on all its members to use, improve, contribute and share this unique tool to work for the improvement of Indigenous Peoples and communities territorial rights.

More information here.


[1] Un Sistema de Información Geográfica (GIS en inglés) es un conjunto de herramientas que integra y relaciona diversos componentes (usuarios, hardwaresoftware, procesos) que permiten la organización, almacenamiento, manipulación, análisis y modelización de grandes cantidades de datos procedentes del mundo real que están vinculados a una referencia espacial, facilitando la incorporación de aspectos sociales-culturales, económicos y ambientales que conducen a la toma de decisiones de una manera más eficaz.

[2] IBC es una organización peruana que trabaja desde hace más de 20 años con comunidades rurales en la promoción de una gestión óptima de los bienes comunes, tales como territorios comunales, cuerpos de agua, bosques, pesquerías y áreas naturales protegidas. Cuenta además con una gran experiencia en el uso de Sistemas de Información Geográfica (SIG) para la defensa de los derechos sobre la tierra y el territorio. 


  Foto: Thomas Muller SPDA