Putting Land Rights on the Map

Putting Land Rights
on the Map

A functioning land administration system is the foundation of stability and economic growth. Unfortunately, effective land registries and cadastral systems with national coverage exist in just a few countries, leaving, by some estimates, 70% of the world’s population with undocumented and insecure land and resource rights.

For Cadasta, closing the gap between those with formally recognized land rights and the vast majority without, is our call to action. We work to tackle land administration constraints by offering easy-to-use digital tools, technology, and services to help our partners efficiently document, analyze, store, and share critical land and resource information to incrementally improve their tenure security and unlock the benefits afforded by secure land rights.

Although citizens holding land informally suffer most acutely from a lack of recognized and secure land rights, they are not the only actors affected. The lack of information on land rights, property boundaries, and infrastructure is a constraint to economic development and security for public and private sectors alike. The basic identity conferred by recognizable street addresses is a boon to private sector actors looking to deliver goods and services, while governments benefit by having data that serves as the cornerstone for planning, infrastructure delivery, and revenue collection.

In informal settlements across the world, our partners are using Cadasta’s platform and tools to document and secure their land rights; whether to advocate for recognition of community rights in Nigeria, for planning and mapping of informal settlements in Zambia, or to provide formal documentation of rights in the urban slums of India.


Lagos, Nigeria

The Nigerian Slum / Informal Settlement Federation (Nigerian Federation), an affiliate of Slum/Shack Dwellers International, and its supporting NGO, Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), are working to change this by advocating for changes to government policy. This requires detailed land tenure information about effected of communities.

“We want to generate a deep body of knowledge that allows us to advocate for greater tenure security for these communities,” said

JEI founder Andrew Maki. “We need to start a discussion with government officials based on real information, not on anecdotes or preconceived notions.”

JEI and the Nigerian Federation partnered with Cadasta to gather sophisticated and detailed information about informal settlements and residents’ claims (both customary and formal) to the land they occupy. Using a tailor-made digital questionnaire  that allowed volunteers and paralegals to quickly and easily use handheld GPS-units and tablets to capture and analyze a robust set of data from focus group discussions and interviews in more than 30 informal settlements across Lagos.

The communities involved in this effort now have key statistics about themselves and land tenure patterns across Lagos’ informal settlements – a vital step toward making themselves and their needs visible to the government. Further, the data collected allows the communities to build their case for rights to the land they reside on by documenting their use of the land. This data also empowers communities to hold the government accountable if they are forcibly evicted.


Odisha, India

In the Indian state of Odisha, government officials made history and headlines in May 2018 with the Odisha Liveable Habitat Mission by handing out formal land rights to 2,000 landless residents of urban informal settlements. For the first time, these nontransferable, but inheritable titles recognize the rights of the informal settlement residents.

Speaking with the Thomson Reuters Foundation about the initiative, G. Mathivathanan, Commissioner at the State Department of Housing and Urban Development, noted “Now the slum dwellers can live without having fear of being evicted.”

The project utilized Cadasta’s tools for data collection and was coupled with community data collectors, imagery from drones, smartphone applications, and participation from local government. The project has already expanded to a second phase, intended to cover 250,000 households and a million citizens by the end of 2018. The initiative is being touted as the “world’s largest slum land titling initiative.”


Mufulira, Zambia

In the town of Mufulira, Zambia, OpenStreetMap (OSM) Zambia used Cadasta’s tools to document the recognized property rights of an informal settlement. Following a brief remote training by Cadasta’s staff, the OSM team trained thirty community members– nearly half of which were women — to collect land rights information using Cadasta’s tools. Despite having little experience using smartphone technologies, the team was able to record the rights of over five thousand households and properties in just two weeks.

Working with OSM Zambia, the City Council of Mufulira is now using the collected data to assist in their planning and infrastructure delivery and to document land rights by issuing Certificates of Occupancy.The example of Mufulira can be replicated in other districts. Indeed, the Zambian Ministry of Local Government is working closely with OSM Zambia and Cadasta to identify ways to replicate the project elsewhere and expand the available data on housing and land use.

Intermediate forms of land documentation provide local governments a measure of freedom from constraints imposed by traditional land administration systems. With more fit-for-purpose approaches to data collection – as compared to the often time consuming, complex, and expensive services from lawyers, notaries, and surveyors – data can be collected and managed according to appropriate standards. There will always will be a need for exacting cadastral surveys, however, such precision need not apply to all parts of a country, such as rural areas and informal urban settlements. In these areas, the cost of property does not justify an expensive survey, and the incremental improvement of the data can allow for the gradual improvement of rights while providing the data needed by local governments.