Editorial: Land rights and responsibilities

In 2002 the European Commission set up the EU Land Policy Task Force to establish a common framework for the design of land policy reform processes in developing countries. As Philip Mikos explains, the EU Land Policy Guidelines, to be issued later this year, will focus on how the EU may assist ACP nations in developing a ‘multi-sector’ approach to land tenure rights, economic development, poverty reduction and good governance.

Such a framework must first take into account the need to establish clear proof of land ownership by means of land surveys and land right identification procedures. This issue of ICT Update describes several projects where ICTs are offering added value. First, Rino Bersalona and Kail Zingapan explain how global positioning system (GPS) and 3-D modelling techniques are supporting the efforts of the indigenous peoples of Mindanao, the Philippines, to map their ancestral domains and thus secure their land tenure rights. John Drysdale describes how the Natural Area Coding System is enabling farmers in Somaliland to gain legal title to their land, and to rebuild communities devastated by decades of civil war. From South Africa, Mike Barry reports on pilot projects that use video film clips integrated into a geographic information system (GIS) database for the purpose of defining, adjudicating and recording land rights in rural and informal peri-urban communities.

ICTs can also contribute to the equitable distribution of land. Online information systems offer improved access to information for both the authorities and the public, and secure database systems help prevent fraud. Suraj Kulkarni describes SARITA, a software platform that has transformed the process of registering land title documents in the Indian state of Maharashtra. Government officials now scan documents and store the images on CD, together with digital photographs and thumbprints, as a precaution against forgery. Finally, Adrienne Mullings explains the work of Jamaica’s National Land Agency (NLA) and eLandjamaica, an online information system that provides access to the agency’s land valuation services and has led to greater accountability and transparency in land tax assessment procedures.

The application of ICTs in land surveys and registration systems alone, however, will not ensure the effective distribution and development of land. Governments must also step up their efforts to keep existing data up to date – the consequences of incomplete land registration information are often worse than having none at all. Further, ACP nations and their EU counterparts must strive to create more linkages between their land tenure policies and economic investments in areas such as infrastructure projects and microfinance services. These will be the most crucial challenges in the years ahead.

18 March 2004

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