A trusted intermediary in Tanzania maps a land parcel using MAST.

Mobile Mapping Expands Across Africa

Around the world, millions of people lack documented land rights. In many countries, land surveyors are rare and demand exorbitant prices for their services, mapping and land registry systems don’t work properly, and land titles— something we in the United States take for granted — can take years to issue and cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars to obtain.

But what if you could map land cheaply, efficiently, and accurately, just using an Android app? And, what if your government could use that map to provide you with formal documentation of your land rights?

And… what if you didn’t need a surveyor to do it?


A trusted intermediary in Tanzania displays USAID’s MAST.

What if you could do it yourself, and your neighbors could verify that your map is accurate and doesn’t impinge on their land?

USAID’s Mobile Applications to Secure Tenure (MAST) program is making this scenario a reality, first in Tanzania, and now in Burkina Faso.

Through an easy to use, open-source mobile application, the project empowers villagers with the training and tools to map the boundaries of their land and gather the demographic and tenure information that government officials can then use to issue formal land rights documents.

The MAST pilot launched in 2015 in the Iringa District of Tanzania, where land rights documents and formal property maps were rare. Villagers were first trained on land laws and land rights, with a special focus on women’s land rights.

Then, village youth — called trusted intermediaries — were trained to use a data capture app installed on low cost Android phones, which allowed them to map the parcels of everyone in the village. Neighbors and village adjudicators were on hand to verify boundaries and resolve disputes.


Women in a MAST pilot village in Tanzania.


Trusted intermediaries in Tanzania.

Then, the information was uploaded to a secure cloud-based database, and downloaded by the District Land Office, which cleaned it, verified it, and used it to issue Certificates of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCROs).


Mr. Donald Mshani, a land officer in the Iringa Rural district, reviews an application for a Certificate of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCRO).

With the help of the trusted intermediaries and District officials, USAID mapped 4,000 parcels and delivered CCROs in three Tanzanian villages — Ilalasimba, Itagutwa, and Kitayawa. The technology, combined with the participatory process, allowed the trusted intermediaries to map at a rate of almost 2,000 parcels a month.


Trusted intermediaries mapping land in Tanzania.

But perhaps the most staggering outcome was the jump in women’s land registration. Prior to MAST, many villagers in the project area believed it was illegal — or at the very least, inappropriate — for women to own land. USAID’s work on training and empowerment dramatically changed these perceptions: by the end of the pilot, 50 percent of the newly registered land was documented in women’s names.


Woman in MAST pilot village in Tanzania.

“Now I understand I have a right to inherit my father’s land, this will benefit me and my children” — Enelika Kasike, Villager Ilalasimba, Tanzania

The combination of mobile technology and a semi-crowd sourced approach made the process of securing land rights more efficient, accessible, and transparent for local people and communities.

And, for the first time, women benefited. The MAST pilot was so successful in Tanzania that it’s now being scaled up as part of a larger Land Tenure Assistance Activity (LTA), which will work in 41 Tanzanian villages to help deliver up to 70,000 CCROs, improve land use planning, support women’s land rights, and build the capacity of villagers and district leaders.

Work in the first LTA villages is underway. The scaling effort is making improvements to MAST and, critically, will build a new component called Technical Register Under Social Tenure (TRUST) that allows for ongoing management and maintenance of village and district land registers. This is essential if registration efforts are to be sustainable.


Mr. Ousman Damiba, land agent in Boudry Commune in Burkina Faso, tests MAST.
MAST is also moving across the continent, to Burkina Faso. There, the local government, with the help of the Observatoire National du Foncier (National Land Observatory), will pilot MAST in Boudry Commune, near the nation’s capital, Ouagadougou. The MAST app has been translated into French, and updated to fit stricter GPS mapping accuracy requirements, in line with Burkina Faso’s laws.
And, in Eastern Zambia, USAID is using MAST with five chiefs and two local NGOs to record boundaries and certify customary land rights in over 300 villages using MAST. Farmers and their neighbors walk the boundaries of their fields together, recording the borders once all parties agree. The resulting maps are validated by the wider community before land certificates are issued by customary authorities.
USAID believes that supporting technologies like MAST will help beneficiaries invest in their land, and lead to better economic growth and resilience outcomes.
MAST is but one promising tool in a global movement of fit-for-purpose land administration. More and more actors, like Landmapp in Ghana, are finding affordable, efficient ways to help communities secure their most important asset: land.


Villagers map land in Mphondolo village, Chipata, Zambia.

This blog was originally posted on the USAIDEnvironment Medium page.

Strategic Objective
Resilience, Land Use, Land Tenure, Gender and Social Inclusion

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