Bridging Gaps to Advance Land Rights

A quote by author and radio host Earl Nightingale sums up Cadasta’s current challenge perfectly: “Your problem is to bridge the gap which exists between where you are now and the goal you intend to reach.” Our goal at Cadasta is to be the leading provider of technical tools and services to support the documentation of land and resource rights to build stronger, more sustainable communities around the world. For Cadasta, however, this “gap” between those with formally recognized land rights and the vast majority without, is our call to action.

Cadasta is “bridging the gap” in advancing land rights for the most marginalized people in a number of ways. The first is by providing access–to technology, tools, and resources which are used by our partners to document and literally put unrecognized people and communities on the map. Our tools are designed in line with the Principles for Digital Development and open access for all, especially for the most vulnerable users, to which Cadasta is committed. Even as we move toward our new technology platform using a mix of open and commercial sources, we re-confirm this commitment, which is central to Cadasta’s mission and values.

Once communities are mapped with initial documentation of land and resource rights—which might not yet represent formal land rights—it can often open up access to both public and private sector resources, such as loans, agricultural inputs, water, sanitation, and other services previously not available. We have seen this in Zambia, where we worked with a volunteer community mapping group to map and document the property rights of residents living in an informal settlement to improve water and sanitation infrastructure.

The second way Cadasta bridges the gap is with data. Where communities and households themselves don’t know where boundaries are, how much land they are farming, or what their property rights are, Cadasta’s tools and training empowers them to collect, understand, and manage their own data, upload it onto our secure platform, manage the information and potentially provide it to stakeholders to advance their own community goals. And with the launch of the new Cadasta Platform 2.0 in the Esri environment, when governments are willing to use these data to recognize peoples and communities, the data can more easily be collected in line with government standards, allowing for transferability of data into a national land information system. This alignment with local and international standards is a major benefit of the platform, and critical to eventually obtaining formal recognition of land rights. This approach has already by used in Odisha State, India where partners took up Cadasta’s tools to document the land rights of residents living in urban informal settlements. With the data securely collected and stored on the Cadasta platform, the local government was able to issue over 2,000 land titles to local residents. The project is already being touted as the “world’s largest slum land titling initiative” and has plans to expand to 250,000 households and a million citizens by the end of 2018.

Finally, Cadasta bridges the advocacy gap for recognition and establishment of more secure rights–  be they freehold, leasehold, customary or any one of a myriad types of use rights. Around the world, the gap between no land rights and formal ones seems insurmountable–with an estimated 70% of the land in the developing world undocumented.  Often government land administration systems leave out the most poor and vulnerable people, and are not equipped themselves to manage the Herculean effort of data collection, mapping, and registering property rights.

Advocacy requires evidence and data. Our practical tools and training, as well as the platform that securely houses land and property data, are an important part of the solution, but are not enough on their own. Cadasta’s role in helping communities collect, store, and share data is an essential input for our partners, who are now better equipped to engage with local and national governments using real data to push for formalization and other benefits.  For example, by working with Cadasta and using our tools, the afro-Colombian feminist group Aso Manos Negra was able to document community land claims to protect their natural resources from illegal activities and promote the sustainable use of community resources.

As the new CEO of Cadasta, I am excited about our growing potential to transform land rights for millions of vulnerable people. Land rights are becoming more and more visible and understood as either a major constraint or facilitator of sustainable development. Cadasta is a dynamic place to be: we are tech- and data-driven, agile, and with a scalable and replicable model for community-driven land mapping and data management. Whether we are supporting partners to obtain informal or formal rights, our team of technologists, land administration and data experts and the partners we serve are an important missing piece of the puzzle. We are also working with donors and governments interested in Cadasta’s role in closing access, data, and advocacy gaps around land to reach many more people more affordably, transparently, and inclusively.

I am honored and thrilled to be a part of Cadasta and to lead its capable and dedicated team at this pivotal time. The team, led by Frank Pichel, has done the hard work of starting up, developing the platform and tools, establishing the proof of concept, and achieving early results on the ground. The team has tested various use cases—in agricultural value chains, indigenous and communal lands, urban and rural settings, and for natural resource management in Africa, Asia, and Latin America; and with international and local partners, governments, and the private sector—and we are ready to scale our efforts.

We are excited about Cadasta Platform 2.0, our partnership with Esri, and the growing program portfolio that has resulted in over 100,000 households—over 600,000 people— being put on the map to advance their land and resource rights.

We have only just begun, and we have ambitious goals for the future to reach millions of people. We look forward to growing our partnerships, with the private, public, and NGO sectors, and working together with vulnerable people who are bridging their own access, data, and advocacy gaps for their current needs and for future generations. I look forward to engaging with each of you to set the course for Cadasta 2.0 as we build bridges that allow people and communities around the world to advance their land rights and secure their futures.