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Indigenous People, Institutions and Orgs, Land, Livestock and Rangeland, Farmers Organizations, Water




Latin America and the Caribbean

“Before the mapping, we did not know what a ‘spatial point’ was, and we did not know what a GPS was; none of that was known so we could not negotiate.”

Nancy Barraza, Mesa de Organizaciones del Centro de Santiago del Estero (MOceSe)


The Gran Chaco is an ecoregion with high rates of poverty and severe land issues. Indigenous peoples, who rely on hunting and gathering economies, share the same territory with other rural families who raise livestock in the open. The proposed methodology allows the stakeholders to better visualize an issue, generate knowledge and collectively develop a solution.


Bringing together stakeholders

The participatory process brings together actors interested in a natural resource, those who hold the property and those who have power to grant access.

Why mapping?

  • It enables organizations and their managers to visualize a land and natural resource issues and understand competing interests within a territory.
  • It generates a fundamental knowledge, built collectively, so concrete solutions can be proposed


Participatory mapping can:

  • Resolve conflicts and generate agreements for access to natural resources by indigenous communities and other rural families.
  • Provide valuable inputs for decision-making processes and public policies

Countries involved

Argentina, Bolivia

Project dates

2018 - 2019

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The participatory mapping approach is an inclusive conflict-resolution process for addressing territorial conflicts and ensuring access to natural resources to indigenous peoples and other rural people. It trains participants to understand a problem, evaluate available information, collect missing information, and display findings on a map. The participatory mapping approach has enabled rural people, especially indigenous peoples, to gain access to land, to obtain the legal documentation for its property or its usufruct  and resolve conflicts over natural resources.


Unclear land tenure is a serious constraint for small-scale farmers in Latin America. In the Gran Chaco region of Argentina and Bolivia, an indigenous community with an economy based on natural resources shares territory with thousands of rural families who raise livestock in the open. Expanding agricultural frontiers is contributing to environmental degradation and deforestation, access to water is an issue for many families and infrastructure is missing or of insufficient quality (e.g inaccessible rural roads and deficient power supply). These factors are leading to tensions between different groups, especially related to the use, control and ownership over land and other natural resources, triggering serious socio-environmental conflicts. This complex environment involves a multiplicity of actors with different objectives, visions and interests for the same lands and natural resources.

The main objective of the participatory mapping approach is to address these sources of conflict and promote equitable and sufficient access to land and natural resources among local people. To achieve this, the approach focuses on recognizing and making visible the different claims for resources. Using a map of the demands of indigenous peoples and other rural people, the approach  initiates a roundtable negotiation process based on fostering dialogue. The participatory mapping process generates knowledge within organizations representing local people, which increases the negotiating power of organizations at the roundtable. The government also participates in this dialogue to ensure equanimity during the process.


The participatory mapping approach generates both knowledge and political power for local people. It helps the groups involved create new knowledge about their own communities, both in quantitative terms (such as census information) and qualitative terms (such as people’s needs). As physical documents, the maps become tangible evidence of a community’s way of life, making it easier to provide context to external actors about different situations and claims. Because they allow for greater understanding and visualization of the territory and environment, the maps foster constructive dialogue among different actors. They help build trust, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence, enabling parties to understand each other’s rights and reach a shared, valid and fair solution for everyone involved. As a result, the participatory mapping approach has been implemented as a conflict resolution strategy by some public institutions.

Importantly, participants consider the mapping process to be transparent and neutral – an important element in conflict situations, especially in rural settings where there are often strong power asymmetries. This is because of the high level of participation in all stages of the mapping process, from identifying problems to documenting all stakeholder’s views on the maps. The participatory mapping approach provides a local consultative forum for discussing proposals that take into account environmental, economic and sociocultural sustainability. The maps become common ground for all parties,   enabling dialogue and negotiations that are based around mutual trust.


Participatory mapping has been successfully applied in a variety of situations. In the case of the former Lotes Fiscales 55 y 14 of the Chaco of Salta (Case 1, it helped  indigenous peoples, as well as other rural people, secure access to land. The approach was applied to natural resource management in communities of the Bolivian Chaco in the case of the TCO Weenhayek (Case 2). It was also adopted to resolve a conflict between a private party and twenty-one rural families who reached a consensual agreement for the division of the disputed area in Santiago del Estero in the case of Paraje Km 25 (Case 3). And it was chosen to solve the serious problem of access to potable water for human consumption and animal production in the case of the Water Access and Management Commission (Case 4).

These four cases show different applications of participatory mapping as a method for indigenous communities and rural families living in the eco-region of the semiarid Chaco to resolve conflicts and generate agreements for access to land and natural resources.

Lessons Learned/Potential for replication

Participatory mapping has proven to be an effective methodology because its high level of participation leads to acceptance and ownership. Participatory mapping enables families, organizations, leaders and community members to define problems, needs and conflicts,  and to come up with commonly agreed solutions. This participatory, inclusive search for solutions is the most important aspect of the mapping process.

In the semiarid Chaco, these processes of empowerment and valuation have strengthened the fabric of communities. In line with good local practices that have allowed for centuries the coexistence of people in the region, participatory mapping values the land, its people, and its resources so that all can work together to find social and ecological solutions.

Next Steps

The impact of the mapping reaches far beyond its initial applications. When the people involved in the participatory process manage to master its methodology, they can use it in various ways. Participants have expressed their intention to use the same methodology in future projects, especially those related to territorial programmes suitable that meet the needs indigenous communities and other rural people. In semiarid regions, both animal and food production are strictly rely on the efficient use of the scarce resources; once beneficiaries master the process and solve urgent matters related to water and land access, they can adapt the methodology for these and  other development purposes.

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Last update: 20/11/2020