OP-ED: Digital Technologies for Sustainable Land Governance in Africa

Christopher Burke, a senior advisor at WMC Africa, a communications and advisory agency in Kampala, Uganda. FILE PHOTO Christopher Burke, a senior advisor at WMC Africa, a communications and advisory agency in Kampala, Uganda. FILE PHOTO
<center>Christopher Burke, a senior advisor at WMC Africa, a communications and advisory agency in Kampala, Uganda. FILE PHOTO</center>

The integration of digital technologies with land governance is paving the way for sustainable development and robust climate action across Africa where land serves as a critical foundation for both survival and cultural identity. The continent’s vast natural resources and diverse ecosystems present unique problems and opportunities. An increasing array of innovative technological solutions are being developed to address many of these challenges.

The Congo Basin is the world’s second-largest tropical forest covering 500 million acres across six countries comprising Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. Remote sensing is being used to monitor deforestation and forest degradation enabling conservationists to detect and swiftly address illegal logging to better preserve biodiversity and maintain the ecological balance essential for climate regulation.

Blockchain technology is gaining traction across the continent, enhancing the transparency and security of land transactions. The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources engaged Medici Land Governance (MLG) to support the implementation of a National Land Titling utilizing blockchain. The initiative aims to significantly strengthen the security of tenure, reduce fraud, assist planning, and create a more stable environment for investment.  Almost 375,000 parcels have been mapped with more than 95,500 titles issued to date according to MLG Director of Operation Javier Clavijo.

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The Regional Programme Manager at the  Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) Dr. Ahmed Amdihun highlighted ICPAC’s collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP), University of Oxford, Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD), European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) and the Ethiopia Meteorological Institute (EMI) to harnesses collective expertise in artificial intelligence, weather prediction, early warning systems and emergency response with financial support from Google.org to protect lives and livelihoods in Eastern Africa.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are also being applied to data captured by un-crewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) with imaging sensors in the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem in Kenya and Tanzania to predict wildlife migration patterns. This information is crucial for the creation of effective conservation strategies and managing human-wildlife conflicts to support biodiversity conservation and community welfare according to Richard Lamprey who works as a wildlife survey consultant in East Africa with Government wildlife agencies and conservation NGOs.

As a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg Simplice Asongu asserts, that mobile telephone technologies are crucial for sustainable land governance across Africa because they enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of land management practices by improving access to real-time information and facilitating communication between stakeholders. By leveraging mobile technologies, land governance can be more transparent and accountable, addressing issues such as corruption and inefficiency, prevalent in many African countries. Mobile phones also enable the collection and dissemination of environmental data essential for monitoring land use and ensuring sustainable practices.

Lagos, Nigeria, is Africa’s largest city. Approximately 70 percent of the city’s 23 million residents live in slums without basic services such as roads, water, and sanitation. These communities face serious challenges including a lack of legal recognition and security of tenure rendering them vulnerable to eviction. The Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation and Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) joined forces with the US-based Cadasta Foundation to collect and analyze detailed data on land tenure utilizing digital tools in over 30 communities.

The data collected provided important insights into statutory and customary occupancy along with community leadership structures involving 26,000 households. The intervention aimed to empower these communities by documenting their land use and advocated for secure land tenure rights to prevent evictions, influence pro-poor government policies, and ensure formal recognition of their settlements according to Caroline Moh, Senior Director of Business Development at the Cadasta Foundation.

In Uganda, the Cadasta Foundation has made significant contributions to supporting the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development (MLHUD) with the registration of customary land rights at the sub-country level. The project illustrates the potential of digital tools to enhance land governance through a participatory approach that benefits local communities explained Alex Bwoji who works with Cadasta’s local partner the Ujamaa Foundation.

The integration of digital technologies in land governance faces numerous challenges including inadequate technical infrastructure. Claudia Ringler, director of Natural Resources and Resilience at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) explained that smartphone access by women is often very limited preventing equitable, digitally-supported community governance.  Prioritizing investments in digital infrastructure and capacity building directed at marginal groups, including women, is therefore essential for harnessing these technologies effectively.

Additional constraints include a paucity of human resource capacity, limited access to electricity, most especially in rural areas, and inadequate financial resources to install and maintain many of these technologies. There are also concerns about data security and equitable access to technology-driven benefits associated with the digital divide.

As Africa edges closer to a digital revolution, the leveraging of digital technologies in land governance represents a transformative strategy for achieving sustainable development and enhancing climate resilience. The effective utilization of GIS, blockchain, AI, and mobile technologies provides African nations with an opportunity to leapfrog development through the creation of more efficient and transparent land management systems to support environmental conservation, boost agricultural productivity, and empower communities with innovative land governance for climate action and nature conservation.

Editor’s Note: The article was written and provided to PC Tech Magazine by Christopher Burke, a senior advisor at WMC Africa, a communications and advisory agency in Kampala, Uganda.

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