An estimated 70 percent of land in emerging economies is undocumented.
In rural areas, from Chad to Cambodia, a majority of smallholders farm without the security of having legal rights to their land.
In urban areas, from Delhi to Durban, an estimated 25 percent of residents live in homes to which they have no documented legal right.
The undocumented rights to land and property in each of these settings is a significant barrier to development. Undocumented land and resource rights seed conflict, undermine development efforts, and erode confidence in government.
To create a foundation for a sustainable, inclusive, and functional economic and political system, we must clarify, document, and strengthen land rights, even in the absence of accessible formal mechanisms for providing security of rights. Recent innovations in technology are making this possible, revolutionizing efforts to document and strengthen land rights around the world, and sometimes bypassing the often dysfunctional, formal land administration systems.
Technology, such as GPS and drones, now allow us to document land rights efficiently and effectively, in even the most remote locations. Off the shelf smartphones and tablets now can be used to easily capture and transmit evidence of land rights. And cloud computing allows this information to be stored and accessed by anyone with an internet connection and the proper passwords.
Too often formal land administration systems rely on a limited numbers of professionals to accomplish the required steps for documenting rights. Consider the case of Uganda, where an estimated 15 million parcels of land are not registered. At the current rate, and using the existing required process, it will take more than 1000 years for the country’s few dozen licensed surveyors to legally register all the parcels.
In the absence of efficient and affordable mechanisms to formally document rights, citizens and communities are looking at other avenues to incrementally strengthen evidence of their land rights, recognizing that using the tools noted above, their land rights can be documented at a fraction of the cost of formal approaches.
Many of these efforts assume that the formal system will, at some point, catch up and recognize these informally documented rights or interface with them in a way to legally and permanently strengthen land rights. This can only be done as governments embrace more fit for purpose approaches to recording tenure information, and where possible, making public and open the information that they do have regarding concessions, land use rights, and even basic land classifications.
And even in cases when formal documentation is not forthcoming. We believe these projects often start the beginning of a process that provides communities with increased levels of security. For example, these mapping and documentation projects can push reluctant governments to acknowledge the existence of communities. And community mapping projects are being used by JEI in Nigeria, for example, to press government for increased services and recognition. Their database provides a critical evidence base and builds their advocacy case for discussions with government officials across a range of ministries.
It is worth noting here that this new paradigm shift provides us with an opportunity to not only provide government with more data about communities rights to land, but to democratise access to the data we are collecting.
So, for example, a farmer can gain confidence and invest in her land to improve her harvest and her life, by seeing that her name alone is listed as the owner in government records. And further, her local bank can see that information and provide her with a loan for improved seeds or fertilizer. And an agricultural extension agent can also find and support her.
We urgently need to foster more proactive discussions involving all stakeholders, including governments, about how, working together, we can leverage cutting edge technology to achieve critical recognition and security for communities and families.