JAKARTA – A picture of huge swathes of greenery flickers on the smartphone screen. A question pops up: do you see primary natural forest in more than half of the picture? And just like in the Tinder dating app, swipe left or right to answer. Feeling doubtful? Then head over to South Sumatra or East Kalimantan, and hunt for the answer in a Pokemon-Go style.
It is through these games that the new interactive app, Urundata, introduced by land project RESTORE+, hopes to marshall many minds to help save tropical rainforests in Indonesia, the world’s largest after the Amazon and Congo basins, and support indigenous communities.
Launched in November last year, the crowdsourcing app has gained more than 800 users, mostly university students, contributing to nearly 3 million interpretations of publicly available satellite images.
“The main attraction is that they compete, collect points and win,” Mr Ping Yowargana, a coordinator at RESTORE+, told The Straits Times.
The consortium of organisations behind the RESTORE+ project in Indonesia is led by Vienna-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and comprises US environment think tank World Resources Institute (WRI), Nairobi-based research group the World Agroforestry Centre and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF).
It hopes to garner 4 million interpretations of the images by mid-March through Pilahpilih, the Tinder-like game.
The Pokemon Go-style game – Jelantara – which requires users to answer questions based on field observations is set for launch in April.
The organiser aims to expand road shows nationwide to attract more users besides technologically-savvy young people, said Ms Sakinah Ummu Haniy, a communications specialist at RESTORE+ from WRI Indonesia.
Ms Natalia Christiani, 22, has been spending two hours on weekends playing Pilahpilih since installing the Urundata app in November last year. She says it is a cause she can get behind.
“It’s fun. But I also need to think (of the answers) because the pictures can sometimes deceive me,” she said. “My points are often reduced because of wrong answers. For instance, I mistakenly identified secondary forests for farming land. And even though a forest looks dense, it’s actually not always a primary forest.”
Indonesia has long struggled to fight against massive deforestation, caused by rampant illegal logging and land clearing for plantations to grow commodities like oil palm. Land conflicts between companies and local communities are also widespread.
The current administration under President Joko Widodo has launched a One Map policy, using only one standard map drawn by Indonesia’s Geospatial Information Agency to serve as a reference for all stakeholders in addressing the issues. Other initiatives, supported by technology, have also come from the private sector, communities and non-governmental groups like Urundata. Late last year, a number of the biggest palm oil companies set up a new radar system to help monitor forests.
Crowdsourcing to gather detailed, grounded descriptions of land is efficient and low-cost, compared with the time-consuming and costly process of engaging experts, said Mr Ping, a research scholar at IIASA.
The app compares the answers of many number of users to generate a final interpretations.
Mr Ping said the data collected by Urundata will be transparent and can be used by any party. It will be published on the Urundata website, he said.
The consortium behind the RESTORE+, which is carrying out a similar mapping effort in Brazil, expects the website will usefully identify a set of restoration options for government, indigenous communities and other stakeholder by 2022.
Prof Hasanuddin Z Abidin, head of Indonesia’s Geospatial Information Agency, acknowledged that Indonesia’s vast land areas spanning 1.9 million sqm was a daunting challenge for nation-scale mapping given the lengthy time, huge budget and large number of personnel needed. Describing Urundata as “a good initiative”, he viewed the participatory mapping approach it introduced as a breakthrough to address the issue.