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How Mobile Applications are Documenting Property Rights in Zambia

By Guest Writer on September 18, 2017

There is a silent race running through developing countries around the world – a race for access to land and the knowledge of whom the land belongs. The race is not necessarily between people, or neighboring farmers, or even between government and their citizens, but exists at the nexus of productive livelihoods, and the sustainable stewardship of land each person calls home.

Globally, the livelihoods of literal billions of people rely on these factors – access to land for farming or mining and ownership and management of land.  How these factors are addressed today will provide the foundation for long-term growth and confidence for people tomorrow.

The Zambian Context

With its large area, growing population, and governance combining centuries-old chiefdoms with a modern democracy, Zambia is particularly well suited for a convergence of old and new ideas regarding land tenure and security.  Zambia has a very rough estimate of 15 million properties undocumented in its 75 million hectares.

Zambia’s land is divided between state land (eligible for leasehold titles) and customary land (largely rural).  Customary land is administered by over 250 traditional chiefs, often, as mentioned before, with little documented evidence of ownership rights for individual households. As of 2013, there were fewer than 150,000 state leasehold titles issued by the government, which is less than one title per 100 individuals and approximately 1 title for every 5,300 hectares of land.  In rural areas, only a few, but growing number of chiefs are issuing any sort of documentation of their land allocations.

The paper-based, signature heavy process being used to secure tenure is cumbersome and not readily or universally accessible to the people who need it.  In fact, under the current system, it is estimated it would take over 1,000 years to document the country’s customary and state-held landholdings—an astounding number used only to make the point that there is much work to be done.

Zambia’s population is growing, and as it does, the demand for land from domestic and international interests will increase.  Constraints posed by limited land rights documentation will rise to the surface. People with undocumented rights may be vulnerable to being pushed off by wealthier interests, particularly in and around cities.  Those without access to documentation may be unwilling to invest in needed infrastructure such as modern houses, mills, and boreholes, for fear of losing them in the future.

Given the dual system of land administration, chiefs and government lack records of land allocation, which results in double allocation and tension between these two power centers. The government of Zambia is working to address these issues by launching a National Land Titling Program for state land, and is considering how to strengthen the rights of rural households while embracing Zambia’s customary culture.


Zambian Solutions and Synergies

To help scale up the process of documenting Zambia’s landowners, USAID is working with both chiefs and the government of Zambia with Mobile Applications to Secure Tenure (MAST).  MAST Zambia uses low-cost, open source data collection tools to collect a range of spatial data used by multiple ministries.  Points of interest collected via MAST include rural access to water, education, health, and transport, as well as areas of community forest and resource management.

Given the scale of the upcoming task of mapping millions of parcels, USAID developed real-time monitoring platforms (Google fusion tables) to track data collection and reallocate resources as necessary. Using MAST, USAID reduced the data collection cost for documenting household land to $10 to $40 per parcel, a fraction of the cost households currently pay to acquire a leasehold title.

Since the USAID MAST solution uses efficient, widely accepted technologies, coupled with existing government structures, it has the potential to document the whole country and allow the government to collect enough revenue on state land to pay back the process.

While land transactions may only happen for a household once every few years, households use services, like health or education or water, much more frequently. As a result, USAID MAST in Zambia supports efforts to build a land administration module on top of the digital District Health Information System (DHIS2) used by clinics across the country.

By relying on a technology already in use in the health field, USAID is supporting the Government of Zambia to find linkages in rural (and urban) service delivery, which reduce administration costs and strengthen existing capacities. To date, five pilot chiefdoms are actively using the DHIS2 system for land administration to service more than 13,000 properties.

Long-Term Benefits

We know that secure property rights hold many benefits including: promoting investment in physical infrastructure; facilitating financial markets; upholding transparent planning processes; generating government revenue; and, supporting land access and rights to women and children. These benefits may only be attained by creating a process, which incorporates existing social structures and readily available tools.

MAST Zambia does this by engaging with traditional leaders and by using mobile technology.  Digital tools have the potential to support scaling and realize secure land and property rights for hundreds of millions of people around the world, and in Zambia the work has already begun.


By Matt Sommerville, Chief of Party, Tenure and Global Climate Change Project, Zambia

Filed Under: Economic Development
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One Comment to “How Mobile Applications are Documenting Property Rights in Zambia”

  1. This is a game changer it will wipe out corruption.