The Peace Parks Foundation GIS team recently visited the Southern African Wildlife College to train the Higher Education and Training protected area management students. The objective of the training is to expose students to GIS and to empower them to do their field work more effectively. The first module is an introduction to GIS software, which lasts two weeks, followed by a week-long module that focuses more on the application of the GIS tool for land-use planning.
The students were also introduced to new software that will enable them to collect and collate data. The Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) software was customised slightly so that it would accommodate the various activities and sub-activities of protected area managers. The data thus collected would be useful for future research projects and reports.
The first week's training encompassed an introduction to GPS and taught the students how to collect data in the field and how to save and download the data once it had been collected. The second week focused on QGIS software that would assist the students in manipulating data and creating their own maps. This is where students were challenged to think outside the box on how this programme would equip them back at their workplace. The students very quickly appreciated the value of GIS as a tool and the capabilities of the software.
One of the students, Mlungisi Douglas Sibeko, shared his thoughts on the training: "At first SMART was a challenging and very difficult software to use, but having patient lecturers assisted a lot. My organisation and I will both benefit from the training, as it will make things easier, especially to log incidences of where there is poaching. It could also show the population size of a species and whether it is affecting vegetation, so QGIS and SMART software is a good thing and very necessary."
The course was successful in laying a good GIS foundation. The students were exposed to two very powerful pieces of spatial software that would assist in making their studies easier and assist with assignments in their workplace. Data management and the importance of storing data in a systematic manner were emphasised, both of which should have long-term positive effects for the protected areas where the students work once they return home.
The one-week land-use planning module focused on the transfrontier conservation area land-use planning process. The classes covered a lot of group work, including an exercise where students design a land-use plan for a hypothetical protected area to unlock the tourism potential. They need to indicate how the park would be accessed, what infrastructure to develop and what activities/land use would take place and where. The students had to present these, together with a budget, to the rest of the class. Students always enjoy this exercise and vehemently defend their land-use choices.
Masiye Masiye from Sioma Ngwezi National Park in Zambia said: "We have to determine the pros and the cons of every project to be developed. Every development has an impact on the land and with this tool we can put mitigation measures in place to make sure that future generations could enjoy the protected areas."