The mobile technology used by USAID in Tanzania features spatial visualization of parcels.

Last week, we described how USAID uses participatory approaches to strengthen and secure land rights. This week, we highlight an innovative participatory approach to formalizing land rights using mobile phones.

In Tanzania, USAID is piloting a promising participatory approach to document and record land rights information using low-cost mobile technology. We are training local community members to gather geospatial and land rights data, such as information about who has legitimate rights to land, parcel locations, and boundaries in rural and underserved areas. We are then working with officials, using our mobile technology, to deliver land titles based on this data. Using low-cost and readily available devices, such as GPS-enabled smart phones and tablets, coupled with participatory data collection methods, the project leverages local knowledge to build a reliable database of land information. This database can then be verified by the government so that formal documentation can be issued in a more transparent, cost-effective, and timely manner, to increase land tenure security for local individuals and communities.

By using accessible mobile technologies to capture land information, USAID will improve understanding of household land assets at the village level. This information will improve land tenure security for community members, and will help communities and local officials improve the process of transferring and allocating land rights, leading to increased land tenure security. It should also help avoid conflicts related to overlapping or conflicting land claims.

Check back next week to learn how participatory legal trainings were used to ensure women’s access to justice and land rights in Kenya.


Participatory mapping workshop in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, September 13 -15, 2011. Photo credit: Tetra Tech / Gary Hunter and Anna Soave

This month, we are highlighting participatory approaches that make land tenure programming more inclusive, effective, and sustainable. USAID uses participatory approaches—approaches that engage local communities and beneficiaries in project design and management—in our efforts to secure and strengthen land tenure and property rights in projects around the world.

In many countries, land rights are determined by complex and often overlapping systems of formal law and customary norms. Because the most accurate and agreed upon information regarding land use, access, and ownership is often held by local communities, it is critical to include a variety of participatory approaches in the design of any project that affects people’s rights and access to land and resources. This can apply to agriculture, infrastructure, housing, and forestry projects, among others.

Working side-by-side with the communities we support, USAID incorporates a variety of participatory approaches in land tenure programming, including:

Participatory rural appraisals, using tools such as:

  • Focus group discussions (to solicit a variety of community voices)
  • Wealth rankings (to capture perceptions of wealth differences and map household rankings)
  • Venn diagrams (to identify existing institutions and their participants)
  • Resource mapping (to identify local resources and assets)

Participatory community mapping, which is used:

  • To determine land-use activities and customary land rights
  • To determine boundary delineation and land-use rights in any protected areas or concessions
  • To gain an understanding of community livelihood assets, migratory routes, and other critical local issues
  • To develop a stronger sense of the value community members place on different assets

Participatory land conflict resolution, using tools such as:

  • Mediation (to resolve boundary disputes)
  • Legal awareness raising (for women and men to strengthen understanding of rights to land)

In order to increase the inclusiveness and effectiveness of land tenure and property rights programming, those designing projects should consider including a participatory component. There are a number of opportunities in programming where participatory approaches are not only relevant, but will improve the overall outcomes of the efforts—ensuring that the voices of the local communities are heard, their rights are respected, and the projects that serve them are more sustainable.

Over the course of the month, we will highlight examples of USAID’s participatory land tenure programming. For further information or assistance incorporating participatory approaches in land tenure programming, please contact USAID’s Office of Land Tenure and Resource Management.


From negotiations over responsible agricultural investment in Rome to new research on gender equality in Rwanda to important steps in legal reform in Tajikistan, land rights continued to be a priority issue for the global community in 2014. Here are some of our favorite pieces on land rights from USAID and our partners from the past year.

  1. Investing in Smallholder Farmers to Feed the Future
    By Tim Fella (Devex)
  2. Progress Report: USAID Support for the Voluntary Guidelines
  3. Improving Donor Coordination to Amplify Impact
    By Gregory Myers (The Guardian)
  4. To Strengthen Women’s Land Rights, Don’t Forget Boys and Men
    By Cynthia Caron
  5. Video: Assessment of Rwanda’s Gendered Land Rights Informs New Approach
    By Anna Knox
  6. Issue Brief: Land Tenure & Disasters
  7. Issue Brief: Land Tenure in Urban Environments
  8. Does Devolving Rights to Communities Improve Forest Conditions?
    By Matt Sommerville
  9. Climate Change Impacts Felt By Poorest Communities
    By Robert Primmer
  10. Harmonizing Land Tenure in National Protected Areas in Honduras
    By Christopher Seeley
  11. Tajikistan: Legal Aid Boosts Food Security & Agricultural Investment
    By Tiernan Mennen
  12. Property Rights for Every Woman and Man
    By Gregory Myers (The Chicago Council’s Global Food for Thought Blog)
  13. Grading Donors on Land Rights - Voluntary Guidelines, RAI
    By Gregory Myers (The Guardian)
  14. Aerial Mapping of Diamond Sites Aims to Reduce Conflict, Benefit Miners - Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Central African Republic

Guest commentary by Dr. Cynthia M. Caron, Assistant Professor of International Development and Social Change, Clark University.

On Human Rights Day (December 10), civil society organizations around the world wrapped up the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign. This annual campaign focuses on gender-based violence as a rights’ violation, draws attention to forms of institutionalized inequality and discrimination, and gives us a chance to ask what we’ve learned about the causes of violence against women and what strategies work to reduce it. One takeaway for the development community should be that when we create programs to strengthen women’s land rights, we should also think about how control of land affects gender relations and how empowering women with land rights affects men and boys.

One way to think about gender is as a relationship between men and women. And one critical element in this relationship, no matter where, is the control of valuable assets. Who controls what matters a great deal in a relationship. It can affect how a husband treats a wife, but it can also affect how a husband, father, son understands his own identity—and this may be particularly important when it comes to control of land.

Land inheritance laws and practice provide a good example. Women and increasingly girl-focused development programming often focus on educating women and girls about their legal rights and develop their leadership and social networks to do so, but too often men are excluded from these activities. When boys and men are included, it is typically to “educate” about the benefits of empowering women and girls. But, how do these efforts—which hope to change the traditional status quo—influence the way men and boys think about their masculine identity or what it “means to be a man?”

That men and boys are not asked these questions is, unfortunately, not surprising; development programs often employ the ‘win-win’ rhetoric. In the case of land rights, a ‘win’ of a land transfer from a brother to a sister should not be seen as a loss for the brother; it should be seen as a ‘win’ for the family or for society on the whole. But we must ask whether men and boys are able to see this as a ‘win-win’ situation or whether changes in inheritance practice are seen as redistributing land from men to women.

This is important because threats to masculinity can become excuses for committing acts of violence. And so, recognizing that men’s very sense of what it means to be a man might be directly tied to land ownership and control of this asset needs to be carefully integrated in our development efforts. Sustainable programming aimed at empowering women and girls with land rights needs to ask new and unexpected questions of and from men in order to move forward our collective understanding about men’s relationships with land. Development professionals need to know how men and boys engage with messages of gender equality, the extent to which they try to act on new knowledge, and if they choose not to try, why not.

A recent evaluation of gender equality programming with boys in Bolivia demonstrates how boys struggle to use new knowledge about equal rights for girls when it directly contradicts what they are learning about what it “means to be a man” from how their own fathers. A November 2014 ICRW report shows how notions of masculinity figure into the desire for sons and how this desire may be greater in agricultural rural-based economies due to boys’ potential to inherit land (55).

What this suggests is that the development community needs to think much more carefully about how control of land affects gender relations and how to creatively include men and boys as active participants in programming that empowers women with land rights. This means contemplating how women’s empowerment programming affects men’s identities and also supporting men through potential identity shifts. Adopting this perspective may help programming better achieve longer term goals and limit potential harms to women.

By thinking more strategically about gender relations and including both men and women in programming and planning we can help ensure that our activism around gender-based violence extends far beyond 16 days.

Dr. Cynthia Caron is a Gender Specialist for the Cloudburst Consulting Group, and also an Assistant Professor of International Development and Social Change at Clark University in Massachusetts. On December 9, she presented "Gender & Land Rights: Don't Forget Men & Boys," a webinar co-hosted by USAID's Offices of Land Tenure and Resource Management, and Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment as part of the #16Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.


By M. Mercedes Stickler, Land Tenure and Evaluation Specialist, USAID.

Last month, I had the opportunity to take part in the inaugural Conference on Land Policy in Africa. This event—organized by the Land Policy Initiative—highlighted the fact that land is one of the most important development issues facing Africa today.

At the conference, I presented three examples of promising approaches from USAID’s work in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Zambia. Each of these examples demonstrates lessons learned and new approaches to land tenure challenges that we have worked with multiple stakeholders to design, pilot, evaluate, and scale up.

1. Land Certification in Ethiopia’s Lowland Pastoral Areas

Land Certification in the Ethiopian Highlands

Since 2005, USAID has supported a series of land certification schemes that have registered and surveyed over 800,000 parcels and issued over 500,000 land use certificates. Under these programs, boundaries were clarified and validated by neighbors and community members prior to certification, which reduces the likelihood of disputes among neighbors over land. The programs also piloted a method of co-registration of spouses to strengthen women’s land rights.

Preliminary evidence from the government’s own attempts to strengthen farmers’ tenure security shows a number of positive impacts: land certification was correlated with 40-45% higher land productivity in the Tigray Region and 30% higher soil and water conservation investments in the Amhara Region. The Government of Ethiopia is now scaling up this model – using new low-cost high resolution imagery –with support from the U.K. Department for International Development, the World Bank, and the Government of Finland, among others. Meanwhile, USAID is implementing an impact evaluation to measure the livelihood and production impacts of USAID-supported land certification programs in the highland regions of Ethiopia.

Following on the initial success of certification programs in the highlands, USAID recently launched a new program to strengthen community-level land rights in the pastoral areas of Ethiopia’s lowlands. This program is piloting models to map, register, and certify customary communal land use rights, as well as strengthen customary land governance arrangements. The results of this pilot will also be rigorously assessed through an independent impact evaluation, and the success of this approach could provide lessons on how to strengthen land tenure security in pastoral areas elsewhere in the region, such as in Kenya, Tanzania, and Sudan.

2. Mobile Technology Pilot to Document Land Rights in Tanzania

Using Mobile Technology to Map Land Rights in Tanzania

In Tanzania, USAID is piloting an innovative approach to documenting land rights information using mobile technology. Land information, such as land claims and boundaries, is documented using low-cost and readily-available devices, such as GPS-enabled smart phones and tablets, coupled with crowd-sourced data collection methods. Under this program, USAID will train local community members to use technology to gather land rights information in rural and underserved settings. The resulting information will be used to quickly build a reliable database of land rights claims, which can then be verified by the government so that formal documentation can be issued in a more transparent, cost-effective, and timely manner, thus increasing land tenure security. USAID has built in an impact evaluation of this approach to help the Government of Tanzania and other stakeholders determine whether this is a viable alternative approach to more traditional and more costly land administration interventions.

3. Land Tenure and Climate-Smart Agriculture in Zambia

Community Land Rights Mapping in Zambia

In Zambia, USAID is strengthening smallholder farmers’ land and resource rights to increase investment in climate-smart agricultural practices, specifically agroforestry. Research shows that farmers who invest in agroforestry see positive benefits, including increased crop productivity and soil fertility, reduced variability in yields, and higher, more reliable farm income. However, agroforestry has not been widely adopted in the region, and while existing research suggests that tenure insecurity may be an important barrier to uptake, there has been insufficient evidence to date on how best to secure property rights to promote agroforestry adoption.

In selected sites in Zambia’s Eastern Province, USAID is piloting a series of interventions that strengthen smallholder rights to land and trees and provide agroforestry extension services to facilitate tree planting adoption and survivorship on smallholder farms. We are conducting a randomized control trial assessment to evaluate the impact of project interventions on the land use and livelihood decisions of smallholder farmers. With the consent of the customary authorities, villages were randomly assigned to receive either the agroforestry intervention, the land tenure intervention, both the agroforestry and land tenure interventions, or no intervention (the control group). A baseline survey has already been administered to 4,000 households in 315 villages, and an endline survey will be conducted in 2019. With this strong impact evaluation design, USAID hopes to quantify the correlation between secure land tenure and higher investments in agroforestry.

Supporting Missions Across 24 Countries

These are just three examples of promising approaches from our work in Africa. Across 24 countries, USAID’s Office of Land Tenure and Resource Management is supporting USAID missions to carry out projects, impact evaluations, and research activities that test and scale models to strengthen land tenure and property rights in support of key development objectives. To learn more, visit the following pages:



The information provided on this Web site is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.