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Technology is helping communities to get land rights more quickly: Malcolm Childress

Malcolm Childress, Co-Executive Director, Land Alliance
Malcolm Childress, Co-Executive Director, Land Alliance

Malcolm Childress, Co-Executive Director, Land Alliance, observes that people tend to invest more in properties which have a security of tenure

What is the importance of technology in securing and scaling up land rights?
Technology is the key element in all of the approaches to bringing the land rights to scale. It has the ability to process things faster, creates more transparency, and leads to interoperability across different systems and platforms. Of course, it has to fit in within a social, economical and an institutional context that can use it appropriately and effectively. When you get that social and institutional mesh, and then when you use those technological tools, is when we really see an ability to go to scale, to lower costs and to provide services for a much bigger population in a better way.

Do you see technology as an enabler or an end in itself?
Technology allows us to achieve the objectives we want to achieve in land administration and land governance — to be able to have secure rights, good customer service, and open information which is accessible to all different users and parts of the population. Those are the big objectives and technology just makes that easier.

Can you give an example of how this has enabled a particular country or state in bringing about that change?
One of the innovations Land Alliance is working on — and I am really excited about — is using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and drones for aerial photography and producing parcel boundary maps from aerial photographs. UAVs now permit flights that used to require lot of time and expense to be done with community participation. Photography can be produced in a day or be rectified on a laptop. We have been testing this in Peru. This allows for communities to actually be involved directly in the production of Parcel Index Maps. That is the kind of thing where the technology is enabling communities to clarify and get security of their land rights more quickly and effectively.

Do you see this directly contributing to economic growth?
Absolutely. In all the places where land rights are becoming better documented, we are witnessing a big investment effect. People tend to invest more in properties which have a security of tenure. They also tend to be able to borrow against those kind of properties, to transact in those properties. Peru is a good example where that is happening. But, unfortunately, there is still a lot of population that do not have that kind of security of tenure. And these are the kind of innovations we want to now scale up and bring out so that they become standard at a global scale.

We want to scale up innovative technologies like UAVs, but these technologies are still not established, and hence, are not reliable at the moment. How do we handle this situation?
That is true. We are still in the early days, or the pilot testing phase, of these things. But now, we are increasingly witnessing adoption. For example, we have a province in Peru that is interested in using this technology in a production setting. What is really required is that we have to work toward packaging these technologies into a start-to-finish process that can be rolled out at a big scale. This means making the user interface simple and packaging things into a turnkey solution. Even the progress in the UAVs segment in the last year has been phenomenal, especially if you talk in terms of seeing things go from testing to prototypes.

Also, there is so much more happening with land administration using Cloud solutions. Interesting innovations are coming up around crowdsourcing as well, wherein crowd-based data is providing not necessarily the whole description of property rights, but important elements which can easily stored and accessed in the Cloud. We are also starting to see mobile applications being used much more.

What is keeping the land community excited today?
The land and property rights agenda globally is coming up as a bigger priority in the development discourse. One of the most exciting things now is to see the land indicators being associated with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. That provides a kind of target or objective that everybody can work toward. So, now, there is a lot more work being done on establishing how we are going to meet those indicators and how we are going to measure them by 2030. I think this has created a great deal of focus and excitement.