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Land ownership leading to women empowerment: Heath Cosgrove

Heath Cosgrove, Director, Land Tenure and Resource Management Office, USAID, talks about the technological platforms being used to secure land rights in various countries

Which are the geographical areas that USAID operates in and what are its main functions?
USAID is present in 90 countries around the globe. Currently, we are doing land tenure in about 32 countries. Our demand is largely driven by our own agency and by the country’s request for USAID assistance. Even though we are majorly working in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Southeast Asia, we are poised and positioned to provide technical assistance in other geographies.

What is the role of technology in scaling up land governance and land rights?
Technology is important for securing land rights across the world today. USAID is working on multiple platforms, including mobile platforms, to secure land rights in different countries around the globe. We are also working with unmanned aerial vehicles to map and have community engagement in certain parts of West Africa. We are using geospatial technology to better define problems and identify ways to best solve them. Take Tanzania, for example. There, we tested a mobile application called MAST (Mobile Application to Secure Tenure) for better land governance. In the absence of readily-available land surveyors, our mobile platform technology was able to map a community’s land of 1,000 plots in four weeks. The immediate result of this was that we went from zero women having any land ownership to 40% women boasting of land ownership. Another 30% land went under joint titling, and the remaining 30% under male ownership. It is a right that people have never had before.

You need to test the new technology, find the gaps, measure its impact, and see what risk comes with it. We are testing different models as these need to be fit-for-purpose, and they need to fit within the country’s context

How is technology contributing in sustainable development?
Land tenure and land security are a priority in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Technology is the most cost-effective model that we can utilize to achieve these SDGs considering the magnitude of the problem. More than 90% of the African continent still does not have a formal title or any type of recognized secure tenure to land. To solve this problem in the next 15 years, technology is going play a prime role.

New technologies are still not established and reliable. How is USAID addressing this?
You need to test the new technology, find the gaps, measure its impact, and see what risk comes with it. That is why we take the approach of piloting. We are testing different models as these need to be fit-for-purpose, and they need to fit within the country’s context. In each case, you will have to measure, test and analyze the technology to ensure that it is secure and safe.Courtesy-Links Media

How is USAID harnessing the data coming in to ensure security of land rights and support the SDGs?
A lot of the technology we are using is Cloud-based or mobile-based. But there are some technological risks that need to be measured when it comes to this kind of secured data. Some of this information is personally identifiable. We need to make sure that it is well-protected and secured and only certain people have access to it. At the same time, we also need to ensure that the community is able to use some data for its own planning purposes. Having the right data, securing that data and making it accessible to the right people is clearly an important objective for us in developing a community. We need to explore whether the developing nation has the requisite infrastructure and the human capital required to maintain such sophisticated electronic databases. We all are cognizant of the issue and looking to address it going forward.

What technological developments is the USAID gunning for in the coming years?
Our focus would primarily be on advancing our mobile technology platforms and open data standards. We are going to focus on database security and explore Cloud-based technologies. These are going to be the way forward for us to make secure equitable land tenure more efficient and more accessible to those around the globe.