Under the Evaluation, Research and Communication (ERC) project, USAID piloted a project to crowd-source land rights information at the village level in Tanzania using mobile technology. The Mobile Application to Secure Tenure (MAST) project (formerly the Mobile Technology Pilot) supported identified needs of the Government of Tanzania to improve land governance and lower the cost of land certification programs. The pilot tested a new, participatory approach for capturing land rights information, as well as a lower cost methodology for quickly building a reliable database of land rights claims. MAST was particularly helpful to the Government of Tanzania as an alternative to more traditional, and more costly, land administration interventions.
Formal land administration systems (LAS) in developing countries have generally not met the need for accessible, cost effective, and appropriately nuanced land registration. As a result, large majorities of rural dwellers (and many urban dwellers) live without formalized rights to land and other valuable resources. This lack of documentation may constrain the ability of individuals and communities to leverage their land-based assets for improved economic outcomes, to limit environmental harms, and to engage in collaborative contracting with prospective investors in land that leads to equitable sharing of benefits. Given rising concerns related to inappropriate and potentially harmful transfers of land rights from vulnerable populations to domestic and foreign investors, many tenure experts view the need to document existing rights in a participatory and efficient way as a high priority.
Through the Mobile Application to Secure Tenure project, USAID tested the hypothesis that under certain conditions mobile technologies that support crowd-sourced information about a variety of land rights/tenure claims can be linked to databases that government can use to issue formal documentation in a more cost effective and time sensitive manner or serve as an independent registry of claims, thus, increasing land tenure security. The pilot approach combined relatively inexpensive and readily available mobile technologies (e.g., GPS/GNSS-enabled smart phones and tablets) coupled with broadly participatory crowd-sourced data collection methods in rural and underserved settings. The approach trained civil society representatives and/or local community members to use technology developed for this purpose to gather land rights and tenure information.
Source code for the MAST Android application is now available on GitHub.