Technology to promote transparency around land acquisitions

The report discusses technologies such as Crowdsourcing, Free open-source systems, Cloud computing and mobile information


This short, desk-top study investigates and reviews how technology is being used in developing countries to promote transparency around land acquisitions. This includes reactive solutions to identify and highlight what land acquisitions have taken place and proactive solutions that promote and protect land rights from future land acquisitions.

The convergence of global crises in food, energy, finance and the environment has driven a dramatic revaluation of land ownership as powerful transnational and national economic actors tap into lands outside and inside their own borders to provide food and energy security at home. The phrase ‘global land grab’ has become a catch-all phrase to describe and analyse the current explosion of (trans) national commercial land transactions. Around the world, various state, corporate and civil society groups have reacted, albeit in different ways. Some see this as a major threat to the lives and livelihoods of the rural poor worldwide, and so oppose such commercial land deals. Others see economic opportunity for the rural poor, although they are wary of corruption and negative consequences, and so calls for the improving land market governance feature prominently.

A number of emerging technology trends were identified as being used to promote transparency:

  • Crowdsourcing
  • Free open-source systems
  • Cloud computing
  • Web- and mobile phone-based information services
  • Support of social and customary tenure
  • Open government policies

Examples are given of projects capturing data around land acquisitions, using reactive or proactive solutions. Initial lessons learned include:

  • All initiatives that have adopted a ‘top down’ approach to large scale land acquisitions (LSA) data collection have found it difficult to obtain and maintain the corresponding information from governments and the organisations (local and foreign enterprises and foreign governments) involved in land acquisitions. It is now clear that a more successful approach to LSA data collection should also include a ‘bottom up’ component of crowdsourced data from other stakeholders, including those on the ground.
  • Those initiatives that have found global platforms to promote their issues, either loss of land rights or planned LSA, have attracted international support for their predicament.
  • Ushahidi, the open source activist mapping' that is extensively used to support disaster management and recovery, is also being used to record crowdsourced information about land incidents. This solution could provide an excellent early warning system for land issues.
  • Those proactive initiatives that are capturing existing land rights to promote and protect the ownership and use of land by communities are being successful by empowering the communities, supported by NGOs, to directly capture the land rights data themselves. The technology toolkits being applied to these applications are being designed to be simple to use and involve innovative solutions to counter the lack of mobile phone coverage in remote areas.
  • Increasingly, pro poor approaches to the capture of land rights in developing countries are being adopted. These are participatory, affordable and equitable. These approaches will accelerate the security of tenure for vulnerable communities in developing countries.
  • Crowdsourcing in land administration is another technique that could accelerate security of tenure in developing countries and help to safeguard communities’ land rights from LSA.

The embryonic nature of these initiatives leaves a number of critical challenges to be resolved; especially around authenticity of information and sustainability and scalability of the initiatives.


McClaren, R. Technology to promote transparency around land acquisitions. Evidence on Demand, UK (2013) 36 pp. [DOI: 10.12774/eod_hd031.feb2013.mclaren]

Technology to promote transparency around land acquisitions

Published 1 January 2013