18.04.2019

What has been handled manually and at great costs of measuring and registering in rich countries for centuries now sees a wave of technologies to facilitate, improve, accelerate and automate the processes involved. High-resolution satellite and aerial pictures by planes and drones, smart hand maps emerging from participatory or other planning exercises, platforms with easy access by many stakeholders, graphical surfaces, high-precision nets of global positioning systems and mobile telephone networks combined with cheap devices all contribute to the rush of national and local administrations, donors and civil society organisations to use the new technologies to delineate land property, land use and land use planning.

Property rights and their impact on the most vulnerable

Overall, there is a clear trend to individualise land tenure, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where formally, the state is often the major owner, while informally it is traditional chiefs, clan and larger family chiefs. One can also observe the integration of common (communal, traditional) rights into the mapping exercises. In the long run, clear individual property rights are arguably a peace-enhancing, instrument protecting the weak which improves investment, construction, production and sustainability of land use. However, the process of individualisation bears many entry points in the short and medium term that stronger segments of society use to override the weaker ones, such as the involved uncertainty, the unequal knowledge and the costs of registration. One group at risk is women, who do not have ownership of land in many traditional societies (at the conference, cases of exclusion of men in matrilineal societies, e.g. in Malawi, also emerged), pastoralists (who often do not have the notion of and traditional need of land of their own), and local migrants. Also, within families, there are risks of systematic discrimination along local inheritance laws.

The new land governance processes need a lot of deliberate attention to these risks.