A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil, Jakarta – Conservation and environmental activism are no longer limited to professionals working and interpreting data in the field, as regular civilians can now pitch in through mobile apps that not only educate, but also invite people to contribute to conservation efforts from the screens of their smartphones.
As the global community commemorates World Telecommunication and Information Society Day on Sunday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reminds people that new technologies are "powerful tools to tackle the world's most pressing challenges".
"International cooperation on digital technology is essential to [...] achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development," Guterres said in his 2020 commemoration message.
For Indonesia, forest conservation and efforts to mitigate and prevent land and forest fires has been a big focus area in the digital space. The severity of annual blazes, which managed to raze 1.65 million hectares of land last year, has pushed environmental groups and government agencies to develop digital tools to help mitigate the disaster.
Here are a few examples of apps that look to bridge the digital divide in conservation efforts:
Urundata is a crowdsourcing app that invites its users to help interpret landscape and environmental data for research and environmental restoration purposes.
The app, launched in April last year, boasts over 1,000 downloads on Google Play Store, with 1,055 data contributors in 19 campaigns helping to observe 4,408,458 landscape spots.
The app is a project of the RESTORE+ consortium, which consists of the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), World Resources Institute (WRI) Indonesia, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia, International Institute for Applied System Analysis (IIASS), as well as 10 higher learning institutions in South Sumatra.
IIASS scholar Ping Yowargana, one of the developers of the app, said the group looked at crowdsourcing efforts such as Kitabisa or change.org and wished to implement similar methods for data gathering on landscape information to help restoration efforts and guide policymaking.
"We wanted to try quality crowdsourcing that still fulfills some scientific criteria, resulting in efficient and cheap data gathering gleaned from people's contribution" Ping told The Jakarta Post this week.
The app gamifies data gathering and interpretation, in which users are presented with satellite images of various landscapes and then asked to identify what kind of landscape it is – informing users of the differences between primary forests and man-made plantations.
The app has so far gathered data from South Sumatra and East Kalimantan, provinces that have a wide range of geographical make-up and are prone to annual forest and land fires.
It is currently gathering national data for restoration landscapes, asking users to distinguish between primary forests, secondary forests, plantations, agricultural land, grass fields and savannas.
Ping said the data would be made publicly available on the urundata.id website once all the data had been collected.
The Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) has also developed its own smartphone app dubbed Mitra Gambut (Peat Partners), together with the Partnership for Governance Reform (Kemitraan) nongovernmental organization.
The app will serve as an online platform for villagers in peatland areas to share best practices on peatland restoration.
The app, launched in 2018, has been installed on more than 1,000 devices, mostly by villagers and the project facilitators. It works like a social network platform, but puts an emphasis on geospatial features such as geotagging (marking the location of posts).
The BRG's deputy for promotional education and partnerships, Myrna Safitri, said Mitra Gambut was meant as a companion app for the agency's Villages Care for Peatland program, so villagers and their facilitators have a platform to share their restoration practices and success stories.
"The app is for them a place of education. They share what can be successfully planted in their villages, and in turn others are motivated to communicate [through the app]," she said.
The Riau Police have developed a smartphone app called Lancung Kuning Nusantara to assist police and military personnel across 11 provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan to aid prevention and law enforcement against land and forest fires.
With the app, security personnel and civilians can volunteer by reporting land and forest fires when they occur. Once they register for an account in the app, users are also able to look for hot spots that have emerged within the past 24 hours – using various satellite data and imaging to inform.
For more simplified data on forest fires within the last 24 hours, the LAPAN: Fire Hotspot app is a solid alternative.
Both apps have been installed on more than 50,000 devices.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry has also jumped on the digital bandwagon by launching its land and forest fires monitoring system SiPongi, which is available through the sipongi.menlhk.go.id website and as a smartphone app. Found on Google Play Store, the app has been downloaded and installed on more than 1,000 devices.