Mapping for Thought: Establishing Secure Land Tenure for Irrigation Schemes in South Kivu, DRC

Through the project “Maji Ya Amani”, Water for Peace in Swahili, ZOA International intends to revive an existing irrigation scheme created in the nineteen fifties (1950’s) in Luberizi, South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is acknowledged that improving the land through irrigation will result in an increase in land value and potential speculation, jeopardizing those who currently occupy and use the land. In the project area, most of these rights are rooted in customary systems that are strained due to ethnic tensions, migratory pressure and violent conflict. The Cadasta Foundation is working to assist the DRC Government, the customary authorities, the local communities, and the Dutch NGO, ZOA International, in mapping and documenting land rights and irrigation infrastructure across the estimated 6,000 parcels, using participatory mapping techniques, combined with the Cadasta Platform, the ODK Collect mobile application and the Trimble Catalyst GNSS receiver. The outcome of this exercise is a database called “cartographie pour la réflexion” (Mapping for Thought) to help the different stakeholders analyze the current land occupation pattern, resolve land conflicts, document tenure rights, and ensure equitable and sustainable access to the irrigation scheme.


Maji Ya Amani – Water for Peace

Maji Ya Amani is not exactly a slogan, but a way of life, depending on how you look at it. Whether you look at it from a pessimistic viewpoint or not, in reality it is not ‘Water for Peace’, but Maji Ya Mijoso: ‘Water for Conflicts’. Let me explain. The communities of Bafulero and Barundi which are found within the project’s zone, are at war in a power struggle that is difficult to resolve. But when you look more closely you realize that this is not people’s biggest preoccupation. Whether they are from Barundi, Bafulero or from any other community, they all have the same message for their leaders: “Please, we need water! Water for irrigation, water for our animals, water for drinking! So please, stop your fighting and give us water!” There is a gulf between the leaders who want to use the project for their own ends and their quarrels and conflict over leadership, and the people who are only interested in getting access to water. The project’s mission is not to settle historical disputes, but to restructure the hydraulic system for the benefit of all. With the problems of climate change and the deterioration of the old irrigation system dating from the 1950’s, the local populations have been severely affected. The complex amalgamation of the problems of rights and land claims needs to be addressed if we want to move forward. We could have asked the authorities to intervene, but that likely would have only worsened the situation, creating more conflict. Through Participatory Mapping we have chosen a more patient and long term solution, and when we have achieved our goal, I promise you that people will have forgotten the struggles we had suffered to get there. Anyway, if we don’t do this now, we risk having to do it ten years down the line. Honestly, how can anyone who calls himself a leader, be opposed to such a project, when he sees how his people struggle to cultivate the land that they have invested in, the cattle that roam for kilometers searching for a sip of water, and the young girls and boys who cycle far under the hot sun to fetch a few liters of water!! So, I say that Maji Ya Amani is not a dream but a reality, a need, a plea from all communities to have equal right to water, no matter which side of the conflict they are on!” – Malembe Simplex, Advisor on questions of land rights and democratic discussion, ZOA RDC, South Kivi, Bukavu office.



Through the ‘Maji Ya Amani’ (Water for Peace’ in Swahili) project, ZOA International intends to restore an irrigation system built in the 1950’s. It is situated in the town of Luberizi in the South Kivu in the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC) and covers an area of approximately 500 hectares and 6000 individual parcels. However, improving the land with a new irrigation system is likely to increase land value and there is a risk of speculation. This would jeopardize the future of smallholders currently farming the land. ZOA International was asked to undertake work to document the existing irrigation system and land rights, in partnership with the DRC Government, including customary and local authorities. The current land rights are rooted in undocumented historical claims and are further undermined by ethnic tension, problems of migration and violent conflict. Therefore, it is essential to involve all local stakeholder to ensure that existing rights are acknowledged, and to protect the land tenure of small holders.

As ZOA International does not specialize in questions of land tenure, they asked the Cadasta Foundation to assist with gathering and documenting information on land rights and the irrigation infrastructure. To carry this out effectively, the Foundation set in place Participatory Mapping techniques. A group of stakeholders met in order to understand the history of the zone to be irrigated, the existing historical land claims, to discuss national and provincial laws that needed to be taken into account in order to recognize the land tenure and to agree on the Participatory Mapping process. During the first weeks of discussions and training, we spoke first and foremost about land, which allowed us to prepare the technology accordingly, rather than doing it the other way round.

To carry out this exercise, Cadasta makes use of a range of technologies including; the Cadasta Platform, the mobile application ODK Collect and the Trimble Catalyst GNSS receivers. Following the 2014 mapping principles of the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) the aim is to replace manual paper systems with digital technology, to improve the quality and management of data, simplify the geo-referencing of parcels and to make that  information more transparent. The result will be a database named ‘Cartographie pour la Reflexion’ (or Mapping for Thought) which will help the different actors to analyze how the land is currently occupied, to find solutions to conflict, to document rights and the renovation of the irrigation system to ensure a fair and sustainable access to water.

Figure 1 : First day collecting data, the six teams together with farmers.


Why Participatory Mapping?

Malembe explained it very well in the opening text; this project operates within a complex social context, where, despite their efforts, people have very little.

It was here, where the Luberizi river joins the Ruzizi river and separates the DRC from its neighbors of Burundi and Rwanda, that in 1952 an earth dam was built. Maintenance work was carried out in the 70’s, but over time the dam became eroded and finally collapsed at the beginning of this century. Since then, the irrigation system has comprised of channels bringing water straight from the mountains, but in periods of drought, water is in short supply. In addition, rainfall has become less regular and access to water can be difficult in some areas, even in the rainy season. These problems are exacerbated by the influx of new arrivals, the shrinking of available fertile land, land sales organized by chiefs without the knowledge of the smallholders and co-operatives that are well organized but whose boundaries are not clear. Routes to some watering holes have been altered as water becomes rarer, and some unused routes appropriated by small farmers in need of land. Conflicts regularly erupt between farmers and herders who let their stock wander over cultivated land. Children are often victims of road accidents on the main road between the villages and the river.

In conclusion, no small farmer seems to have been spared conflict between landowners, no herder to have been spared the risk of losing his animals to an angry farmer, no mother spared the tears shed on the loss of a child.


Figure 2 : village children fetch water by bicycle.


More than a century ago,the colonial powers had identified a migrant ethnic group in the Ruzizi plain; the Barundis, from Burundi, who were traditionally stock farmers. However, in the surrounding mountains another ethnic group had already been established since time immemorial; the Bafuleros, who were traditionally crop farmers. Conflicts over land grew more frequent as the population in the area increased, the Bafuleros started growing crops themselves, and the effects of climate change began to be felt. In 2014, a violent dispute between crop and the stock farmers left 34 people dead, including women and children.

In addition, the fundamental legislation regulating land rights in RDC includes law no. 73-021 of 20th July 1973 on the general property, land and real estate and the regime of security interests (so- called Bakajika Law). This text and it’s decrees of application act as the Land Tenure Code. But the agricultural, forestry and mining codes also govern the sale, purchase and renting of land. These laws, which do not agree with each other, now provide a formal legislation that is not rational or consistent. They often overlap and different legal bodies contradict each other. Lastly, this formal legislation is superimposed onto the customary land rights system, known as the Bakajika Law, which itself has no legal provision for its exact roles and status.

In this part of the world, the little that people possess is in under constant threat. It is within this context that the project decided to choose water as an opportunity for peace and Participatory Mapping as a means of formally protecting customary rights. The stakeholders were, in this manner, mobilized through the subjects of agriculture, stock rearing and clean drinking water.


Definition and Objectives of Participatory Mapping

The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) defines ‘Participatory Mapping’ as identifying, with the involvement of the communities concerned, the areas and resources which are important to them as well as their position on a geo-referenced map. These areas can include; agricultural resources, the influence of the traditions of different ethnic groups as well as the cultural and historical importance of the sites. Participatory Mapping is presented as an indispensable tool for anticipating, minimizing and resolving conflict that may arise from the creation of an irrigation perimeter. It is a tool to assist with decision making, which must benefit the public at large, especially those who are most affected by this perimeter and other partners in the hydraulic sector. It is a community based concept that emerged in the wake of the Participatory Rural Assessment Methodology in the 1980’s. (FIDA,2010)

The aim of Participatory Mapping, with the help of the inhabitants of the affected villages and those neighboring it, is to create a map showing land occupation in the area where a system of equitable irrigation is to be located. The specific goals of Participatory Mapping are:

  • To identify and list the activities of villagers and the location of those activities in the communities affected.
  • To locate those activities on a map
  • To georeference all that has been identified
  • To define the limits and the village boundaries of the affected community, with representatives from the villages.
  • To ascertain the distances that people from the community have to travel to carry out their different tasks and the geography of the terrain (topography, type of crop etc.)
  • Locate and document the paths taken by the villagers for different activities (hunting, fishing, herding etc.)
  • To ascertain what land tenure agreements exist between neighboring communities.
  • To identify potential areas of conflict with regard to land use, resources and encroachment on another’s land.


Choice of Methodology

In view of the complexity of land rights and the uncertainty in protecting the legal right of smallholders to their land, ZOA International felt it would be beneficial to widen the Participatory Mapping exercise to include administrative authorities. This would enable the preparation for recognition of land rights and to ensure that the state was a full partner. The following bodies and groups were brought together:

  • Representatives from the communities including women and young people
  • Representatives of farmers and producers,
  • The traditional chiefs and their delegates,
  • State representatives, including representatives of the Land Registry, the Cadastral Department, the Ministry of Agriculture for Access to Water and Pastoral Concerns, and the Ministry of Transport for the land development questions,
  • Engineers, technicians and managers from the ZOA project, for the management of the exercise.
  • A third party from the United Nations as an impartial observer of operations,
  • The Cadasta Foundation for the methodological and technical implementation of the exercise and for Participatory Mapping.

Initial sessions helped us to establish and understand some essential points for setting up the technological system. Firstly, to learn the history of the irrigation zone and the current traditional system. This session led by the elders of the communities, enabled us to understand the complexity of social relationships and the frustration felt by farmers concerning land use. Then came discussions on national and provincial land tenure laws, access to water, the movement of livestock, protection of the environment and many other subjects. The Cadasta Foundation took the opportunity to talk about international guidelines that have been developed for the certification of customary tenure, for example the FAO’s (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGTs) and its implementation methods. From these debates, lists were drawn up of information that needed to be included in the system in order to update the existing land tenure situation and agreement was reached on the process for gathering and documenting land tenure rights. As a consequence a twelve stage methodology (see below) was defined, which led to a basis for considering the resolution of land conflicts, development of land, the resettlement of some farmers and lastly, the mechanisms for securing land tenure. The twelfth stage was called “Mapping for Thought”.

Figure 3 : diagram showing  the ’Mapping for Thought » stages, based on the protection of land tenure in Lubérizi

Preparation of the tools for the process of gathering information

The Cadasta Platform

The Cadasta Foundation was founded in 2015. Its aim is to offer to governments and communities technically and financially affordable tools for clarifying land tenure, in particular to citizens who have been excluded from the official tenure administration system.

Only 25% of the world’s population has a land title that gives them security of tenure. In rural areas of developing countries, this security is not guaranteed and applying normal administrative regulations would be too expensive and not appropriate. For example, in Luberizi, some farmers do not accept the property titles issued by the land registry to certain ‘fat cats’ and smallholders do not have the financial means to pay for property titles.

Cadasta has created a platform which meets the needs of a new “tailor-made” concept for land registry. The platform complies with the Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM), a procedure that consists of determining the social relation between individuals and land, helps with the acknowledgment of the continuum of land rights, from the least (including customary land tenure) to the most formal (registered property rights).

Figure 4 : a diagram of the social relation between individuals and their land. Drawings by pupils from the Lifol-le-grand college in France.

Figure 5 : land rights continuum

The Cadasta Platform records data on land tenure collected in the field by using many different methods, (including smartphones and tablets) that can be downloaded to an online platform. This information can then be distributed to anyone with a pre-determined user ID. It also means that data can be edited by transferring it to the Quantum GIS (QGIS) geographical information software. Spatial data is geo-referenced into the WGS84 system, enabling it to match Google satellite images made available worldwide. After registering, access to the Cadasta Platform is free to organizations that develop projects for land rights recognition. This information is gathered by ZOA and stakeholders in the Participatory Mapping in Lubérizi. It is then entered into the Cadasta ‘Mapping for Thought’ database and will help to make decisions on the formalization of customary land rights. It is essential that the technology be configured correctly in order to ensure that it meets the needs of the project and that it can achieve its goals.


The Questionnaire

The setting up of the Cadasta technology was based on a field study questionnaire to decide what data should be included in ‘Mapping for Thought’, the database of existing land tenure relationships. The questionnaire was drawn up during an initial working group of all the stakeholders in participatory mapping. It was then formatted to be used within the technical constraints of the XLS file, the ODK Collect mobile application in concordance with the project created on the Cadasta platform. Formatting the files can be a hassle, so the Cadasta Foundation drew up generic files. In Lubérizi we used a file created specifically for the needs of smallholders and using the STDM model, classified all the information into three groups; people, property, and the relationship between those people and their property. The ZOA technicians grasped the concept and rapidly created an XLS file that was adapted to surveying the existing properties and infrastructures (roads, irrigation channels etc.) in the area to be irrigated. These infrastructures play an essential role in land use, and their relationship with the farmers needs to be defined.

The Open Data Kit (ODK) Collect, mobile application used by Cadasta uses Android smartphones to replace paper questionnaires. It makes it possible to collect a range of data; geo-referenced sites, semantic data, images, audio and video clips, barcodes, etc. ODK Collect, following the logic configured in the XLS file, can control how the data to be collected  is displayed and dictate filters according to the replies. Whether they are questioning a co-operative or an individual, the data collectors are thus directed to options that will enable them to ask the questions specific to each case.


The Accuracy of the Geographical Data

For the needs of the Participatory Mapping in Lubérizi, the choice of the surveying equipment was determined by the accuracy required. The provincial survey department in Uvira uses a nominal scale of 1/2000. Even though this department’s survey data is not geo-referenced at present, it was important to adhere to this nominal scale in order to match any prospective land titles to boundary maps in the area to be irrigated. It is also important to mention that in this part of the world because demarcation of rice fields is determined by the embankments between them, an accuracy of 20cm by the surveyor is difficult to apply .The accuracy of Smartphones is between 5 and 15m so it was necessary to use GNSS receivers with external antenna which are more accurate. The Trimble Catalyst receivers were chosen for their low initial purchase price, but more importantly because they offer a flexibility of access to the required accuracy, with subscription payments as operations advance. Thanks to position sharing, the Trimble Catalyst gives a WGS84 position at 1Hz (1 per second) in the ITRF2014 Current Epoch database, in the form of a latitude, a longitude and a height, as well as an estimation of positional error. Trimble, at a height of 2m, can achieve a positional accuracy up to a centimeter. In Africa, Trimble guarantees error to between 30 and 70cm. However as the techniques are in constant progression we were asked to carry out tests. For two weeks in Lubérizi, using a Trimble France subscription at 10cm, a maximum geographic positional error of 24cms was indicated, which is close to the surveyors nominal scale. When these tests were completed, the 30-70 cm subscriptions that had been ordered were installed and the GNSS receivers displayed an almost constant geographic positional error of 30cm. We should, of course, have compared the positional error produced by the Trimble application with the smartphones relative to known geodesic points of the Congolese system, but this operation would have been a project in itself. The Cadasta Foundation does not yet, offer any other system than the WGS84 one, but this is likely to change soon.

Figure 6 : village representatives including women, learn how to use the collecting system. The poles were made locally using a PVC tube to the end of which the Catalyst can be screwed…cost 10 euros !


The Choice of Smartphone

Using Trimble Catalysts GNSS receivers requires certain types of Android smartphone or tablet. The choice was the Samsung A5 2017. After a short training period with the 6 field teams for the project, the installation and configuration of the different mobile applications necessary for collecting data went ahead smoothly. The biggest problem encountered was due to the way the smartphones were configured via the developers option (an option specific to each phone) to allow the replacement of the phone’s positioning system with that of the Catalyst. But after research on internet, solutions were found to make it all work.


Internet Access

Internet access is not required for collecting data in the field, although a regular access is recommended. To meet the needs of this exercise, 3G access was installed on each of the 6 collection units, but as Congolese network was often interrupted or inaccessible in the remote areas of the perimeter, a Burundi  4G was also installed by means of a modem. The very first modem set up on a promontory was stolen, forcing one of our technicians to make a day’s journey by canoe, along with its cargo of chickens and mangoes, across the river to Burundi to get a new one.



Access to an electrical supply is the Achilles heel for new technology in Africa, and the Catalysts consume a lot. But luckily this part of the DRC has good coverage compared with the rest of the country. To provide a backup system for any electricity shortage, large external batteries were purchased, which replaced the small ones that were provided by Trimble. These larger batteries can take a whole day to charge.

Figure 7 : The complete outfit for field collection ; waterproof boots, trousers and jacket, a hat, a pole, GNSS Trimble catalyst receiver, smartphone, external battery, 4G modem and bag, and a compass , always a useful addition in the surveyors pocket !


Adoption of New Technology by Administrative Agents

Although the methods of collecting information and the principles of ‘Mapping for Thought’ have been taken on board by administrative agents, the same can’t be said for the technology. Essentially, what was not understood is how, what is commonly known as GPS, works, and the logic behind the questionnaire. Two working sessions were necessary before effective field operations could begin. ZOA engineers were responsible for the training on the reasons for the questionnaire, whilst the Cadasta Foundation took charge of the training on the principles of GPS. Explanations were made by drawing comparisons with manual tasks. For GPS, comparisons with plane table surveying was like a magic trick !  We didn’t go into the difference between GPS and GNSS; seeing the Director of Cadastral Department buy himself a smartphone in order to become accustomed to this new sort of toy was far more important.

Figure 8 :training diagram for explaining the GNSS system of receivers.


Doubts Concerning the Overlapping of Rights and Conflicts Encountered on the Ground

Throughout the working sessions, doubts and intense debate arose about how to manage the overlap of existing land rights. At the start, the  administration opposed the recognition of the rights of farmers who inhabited land along roadsides, areas normally designated for the hard shoulder and rain collection, or smallholders who refused to belong to a State concession, or herding zones that had deteriorated. It was finally admitted that is was important to understand clearly what the existing land tenure situation was in order to be able to redevelop land, taking into consideration the administrative, technical and environmental constraints and the expulsion of some smallholders.

Figure 9 : diagram explaining how land tenure overlaps in Lubérizi



After two intensive missions to think about methodology, to discuss (sometimes loudly) the laws and regulations to be abided by, to resolve technical problems, to adopt new technology, to anticipate social and land tenure problems, to walk up and down the rice field embankments collecting the first data, the Cadasta Foundation has left behind six teams of three (one ZOA technician, one state representative, and one representative from the community) trained to gather information in the field as well as the three ZOA engineers trained to use the Cadasta Platform and the QGIS data processing software. It has been decided that at the end of each week, data collected will be printed and published in the villages so that it can be checked, any further information added and, perhaps, simple tenure conflicts resolved. It has also been decided that the administration should provide ZOA with all land titles issued and the regulations to be respected as in the case of the buffer zones on each side of the roads.

The first collecting sessions and the density of the location means that an estimated 6000 parcels could be surveyed in 17 weeks, with one team dedicated to infrastructure and another to  resolving disputes. A final three weeks is intended for checking for any mistakes and clarifying any persistent worries.

Figure 10 : results from the first days field collection, 62 parcels


Many factors could, however, hinder the smooth running of operations. Problems of security (especially near the mountains), political problems where dignitaries or tribal chiefs block operations, the travel time to areas far from main roads, heavy rainfall, technical problems with the telephones, problems with the 3G/4G internet network, the geometry of the parcels in places that making collection complicated and slow, the absence of smallholders who were not properly notified or simply just absent, the technicians who are slow or absent etc.

At this point in the operation, Maji Ya Amani is still a dream and the need for patience, as Maleme described in his text, could be wise advice. On 1st of February 2018, the first tenure publication of 185 parcels took place in the villages. The Director of the ZOA program told the Cadasta Foundation, “The first delivery was painless and we are very proud.” The Cadasta consultants were amused by this reaction, but the statement hides the real role of midwife that the Foundation plays in nurturing the child to maturity and preparing the mother for future offspring. It is hoped therefore that lessons will be learned from this first publication, not only by ZOA and the Cadasta Foundation, but above all the local populations, the customary authorities and the administrative services who were involved in this Participatory Mapping project. These first results represented 185 parcels over five days of survey and not the expected 450. What obstructions did the teams have to face which explains the slow start? What satisfaction will be voiced through this first publication? But also what fears will arise? Towards what form of recognition of rights are we headed? ‘Mapping for Thought’ is now committed. It will improve as the exercise progresses, as the lands are represented, as infrastructures are traced, as water sources appear, as livestock tracks become more obvious, as roads are repaired, as the dam is built and the irrigation channels supply people in a more efficient and equitable way, as certain farmers are moved to more practical locations. As setbacks and land tenure conflicts are resolved, the administration can take steps to ensure the recognition of small-holder’s land  rights. Slowly but surely WATER will perhaps be PEACE.

Figure 11 :screen shot of data collected on the Cadasta platform on 18th April 2018 and gathered in QGIS for analysis  



In the end, it was the stifling heat that slowed the collection of data in the field. Three weeks after the official start of operations, the data collectors were tired and dehydrated, some even being taken  to a local clinic for observation. Rest assured, everyone is OK but the team decided to organize things differently, to have a break at the end of each ‘block’ (a block being a group of adjoining parcels belonging to disparate inhabitants but managed by the same block chief) in order to preserve the health of the collectors.

On 18th April 2018, 1376 parcels were recorded on the Cadasta Platform, barely a dozen of which were State Concessions and co-operatives. A brief analysis of the data calculated that the size of the parcels was less than 1ha for individuals and between 2.5 and 7.5 ha for the concessions and co-operatives.  

The Cadasta Foundation has a responsibility to examine the different mechanisms for resolving conflicts, expulsion of some farmers and the land tenure protection implemented in order to improve its tools and services. To this effect a new version (2.0) of the platform is being developed and should come out in the next few weeks.

This article was originally published by XYZ – Association Française de Topographie.