A web-based application that monitors the impact of successful forest-rights claims can help rural communities manage resources better and improve their livelihoods, according to analysts.
The app was developed by the Indian School of Business (ISB) to track community rights in India, where the 2006 Forest Rights Act aimed to improve the lives of rural people by recognizing their entitlement to inhabit and live off forests.
With a smartphone or tablet, the app can be used to track the status of a community rights claim.
After the claim is approved, community members can use it to collect data on tree cover, burned areas and other changes in the forest and analyze it, said Arvind Khare at Washington D.C.-based advocacy Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).
"Even in areas that have made great progress in awarding rights, it is very hard to track the socio-ecological impact of the rights on the community," said Khare, a senior director at RRI, which is testing the app in India.
"Recording the data and analyzing it can tell you which resources need better management, so that these are not used haphazardly, but in a manner that benefits them most," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
For example, community members can record data on forest products they use such as leaves, flowers, wood and sap, making it easier to ensure that they are not over-exploited, he said.
While indigenous and local communities own more than half the world's land under customary rights, they have secure legal rights to only 10 percent, according to RRI.
Governments maintain legal and administrative authority over more than two-thirds of global forest area, giving limited access for local communities.
In India, under the 2006 law, at least 150 million people could have their rights recognized to about 40 million hectares (154,400 sq miles) of forest land.
But rights to only 3 percent of land have been granted, with states largely rejecting community claims, campaigners say.
While the app is being tested in India, Khare said it can also be used in countries including Peru, Mali, Liberia and Indonesia, where RRI supports rural communities in scaling up forest rights claims.
Data can be entered offline on the app, and then uploaded to the server when the device is connected to the internet. Data is stored in the cloud and accessible to anyone, said Ashwini Chhatre, an associate professor at ISB.
"All this while local communities have been fighting simply for the right to live in the forest and use its resources. Now, they can use data to truly benefit from it," he said.