Mobile Technology Poised to Generate Land Ownership for 4 Billion People

For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations, land ownership is an economic resource and critical determinant of social and cultural identity. But for the 4 billion people who live without registered land, landlessness can mean economic insecurity, no personal address with which to vote or receive aid, and a constant state of disputation and residential impermanence.

One implication of massive concentrations of unregistered land is the loss of wealth that they have the potential to generate. But perhaps more importantly, the absence of established land title systems means that property ownership is not guaranteed. As Devex development reporter Naki Mendoza notes, this has serious consequences for developing countries.

“Farmers cannot legally pass down ancestral lands to their children. Families cannot secure a mortgage or use property as collateral for a loan,” he writes. “And local communities are shut out from negotiations with extractive companies. For governments, it represents a sizable loss of tax revenues or, crucially, a foreign direct investment that will never be made because of uncertainty over property rights.”

Data accumulation mechanisms are poised to remedy these problems by streamlining land registration and giving local communities the ability to monitor and enforce their rights to their land. Data and analytics company Thomson Reuters has created a proprietary land information system that digitizes and archives land deeds in government databases, a practice that safeguards against the loss or damage of paper deeds.

Like mobile banking or online healthcare, digitization can reduce the opportunity cost of land registration from a multiday journey to a local registrar to a minutes-long mobile upload. The digital platform is also linked to satellite mapping systems, which provide updated property lines and can be used to mediate disputes between families, communities or even multinational extraction companies.

As Mendoza points out, these digital platforms have yielded concrete results. In Cape Town, South Africa, 915,148 properties were reported on its tax roll last year, up 66% since 2000. In Jamaica, it now takes only two days to register new property, down from 45 days in 2005. In the Philippines, nearly 60,000 urban land titles are issued each year, compared to just a few thousand as of five years ago.

With increasingly large and accessible quantities of land management data, a number of global institutions have commenced programs to secure land rights for the world’s 4 billion landless people. Earlier this month, at the Third International Conference on Financing and Development in Addis Ababa, the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the World Bank signed a Declaration of Intent to establish a Network of Excellence on Land Governance in Africa (NELGA) to establish a widespread system of land registration and land rights. NELGA will complement the existing Land Policy Initiative, whose stated purpose is “to enable the use of land to lend impetus to the process of African development.”

“Secure access to land and other natural resources is of vital importance for the people in rural areas of Africa,” said German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dr. Gerd Müller. “It will be an important contribution for food security and growth in the agricultural sectors, especially for smallholders.”

The demand for online land management services marks an opportunity for American companies looking to apply data and analytic systems to relieve people living in states of extreme poverty. It would also help millions of people establish a state of permanency for themselves and their families, which precedes activities like consumption and local investment. As land registration becomes more accessible for those living in extreme poverty, demand for modern information systems will become more widespread, and the door will continue to open for American technology companies and mobile developers in developing regions.

Zach VeShancey

Sources: Devex, Leadership, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: Devex