Frank Pichel, CPO & Robert Banick, Consultant

For many nations, income derived from the exploitation of natural resources, whether through extractive industries or the lease of land for agriculture or timber production, remains a critical component of the national economy. This revenue is particularly important in emerging economies that may lack transparent regulatory frameworks and where resource contracts are often executed under a shroud of secrecy, leaving doubt as to who the actual beneficiaries of the contract are. Often few details regarding the contracts, leases, and concessions are released to the public; when they are, it is generally as images of key pages of the contract, resulting in a lack of information for governments & citizens as they seek to learn from past contracts and ensure that future contract negotiations are performed transparently and equitably.

Recognizing this constraint, the World Bank, the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI), and the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (in association with a number of partners) have collaborated to launch, a searchable online database of contracts.  Still in beta form, the database has, during 2015, undergone an upgrade to include new features and additional contracts to allow for additional tools for improved understanding and analysis of resource contracts. On October 7th the database will be expanded to include available land contracts for commercial agriculture or forestry programs; these contracts will be available through a project run by the World Bank and Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment.

Anders Pedersen, Open Data Officer at NRGI emphasize that contracts areas is a piece of data puzzle, which has been difficult to extract from contracts: “Most often spatial data on the contract areas has been buried in annexes of poorly scanned PDF-documents. If contract areas can be captured as open data this could enable community group and researchers to put this to use. In Indonesia we are already seeing communities use drones to monitor. With access to open spatial data on contracts researchers might also be able find new understandings of local socio-economic or environmental impact from extractives activities.

A key component of these resource-based contracts relates to the spatial boundaries of lands under contract, particularly as cadastral systems for managing property rights are not yet in place in many emerging economies. Where they are, they are often limited in use to a single government agency, i.e. a standalone mining cadaster, an agricultural cadaster, and a forest cadaster – all separate from the registry and cadaster relating to public and private lands. The spatial definition of contracts is often vague and can consist of a legal description, a list of coordinates, or a concession map with limited reference points – leaving the actual location of the concession debatable and difficult to analyze at best. Finally cadastral system often lack proper open licensing that can enable reuse of data.

Cadasta Foundation has been collaborating with NRGI to review a subset of annotated contracts from in an attempt to identify the range of possibilities in spatial definition of agreements, extract and map concession areas where possible and define a process for automating the mapping of extractive contracts where possible.

To do this we reviewed and extracted data from fifty concessions contracts. Forty-two came from the Philippines in anticipation of the forthcoming Philippines Resource Contracts  site and eight were chosen at random from around the globe.

The good news? In almost 80% of the contracts we could readily extract data. After some tedious transcription from PDFs and GIS database magic we had our contract areas. The bad news? 20% is still a big number to fail on. Some contracts had data in difficult to transform formats (Bearings/Distance). Some mentioned maps in annexes that were not included in the contract. Some just did not reference the contract area at all. Often contracts from the same country followed similar formats, but in some cases not.

We have built some extraction templates and basic instructions that should let Mechanical Turkers handle the majority of the cases. But there will always be a need for some skilled GIS problem solvers to sort out that weirder data we encountered. Either way, once we get finished data we will upload and process it in our PostGIS spatial database backend, then serve it out via’s API as GeoJSONs. In the long term we will include common identifiers that can link these GeoJSONs to data from peer services like OpenCorporates, OpenLandContracts and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. That way everyone gains from our work.

At Cadasta, we are working to develop a secure, cost effective technology platform for the capture and recording of land and resource rights – both those formally recognized by government and those that are not. Concession agreements, whether for surface rights (commercial agriculture, timber) or sub-surface rights (minerals, fossil fuels, etc) may directly impede citizens’ rights to access property. Furthermore, because many resource contracts are not adequately mapped or publicized, citizens may not be aware of a legally recognized right granted by the government that may affect an individual or a community’s ability to utilize the land. At Cadasta Foundation, our intent is to map all property rights claims, recognizing that there are often overlapping rights. State granted concessions are just another type of property right to be mapped and made transparent to all stakeholders.

Frank Pichel, Chief Programs Officer

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