By Catherine McKenna
Earlier this month, AGS had the privilege of speaking with Chief Programs Officer Frank Pichel of Cadasta. With the company’s vision to “build a world where even the most marginalized individuals and communities can benefit from the opportunities afforded by secure land and resource rights,” Cadasta’s work has lead to tangible gains in achieving land rights.
Land rights is not always a familiar concept, they define the rights of individual people or collective people to land. In the United States, the people who work in land rights focus specifically on the legality of property rights. However, understanding land rights in countries outside the U.S. provides alternative approaches where community and land administration is emphasized. Historically, Hernando de Soto put property rights on the map, arguing land rights are an asset while emphasizing how those assets can be leveraged. Pichel explains how National Geographic’s work with Indigenous peoples on land rights has positively shifted the dialogue around property rights by providing a human-centric and conservational lens to community and Indigenous-held lands, while showcasing how they are often the most well-stewarded areas.
Geographic technology plays an important role in Cadasta’s work. Pichel explained how Cadasta’s use of geographic technologies helps align legal information to the unique parcels of land in question, and has impacted countless communities and countries. Cadasta’s technological methods are constantly evolving; the organization initially focused on those left out of formal land recognition, and while this is still their aim, the way Cadasta uses spatial data has varied in many more ways than anticipated – from advocacy campaigns, to the intermediate step of leveraging data for private sector use and connecting data to value chains, or ultimately connecting data to government national land information systems. Working with local partners and using a decentralized approach has proven extremely successful in efficiently mapping parcels of land in Uganda. In 2015, only 10 percent of the country’s parcels had been mapped, or the data provided was indecipherable. With a lack of surveyors and proper infrastructure, Cadasta realized it would take decades to record and map the entire country. However, through locally-led approaches, Cadasta has worked with communities on the ground to formally and efficiently document much of Uganda’s land.
Over the last seven years, Cadasta’s focus has naturally progressed from food security to slum mitigation to conservation, highlighting how land rights issues and processes are quickly evolving. The Tenure Facility in Liberia was designed to support Indigenous communities securing land rights around the world for large tracts of lands in tropical regions. They did this by creating a global dataset of Indigenous communities that can be leveraged for monitoring and analyzing long term impacts of Indigenous land management, while evidencing how Inidgenous communities often promote greater carbon sequestration, reduced deforestation, and in general greater sustainability. Cadasta then built out the Community Land Information Monitoring Tool in order for Liberia’s government agencies and local organizations such as Communities and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to manage their data.
Pichel mentions in some cases, their partners may find no path to a formal recognition of rights, and therefore the first step is advocacy. Many of their flagship projects have led to communities’ formal recognition of rights, where bottom up approaches in gathering data became part of governmental systems. Cadasta strongly believes citizens must be empowered to capture their own data. The organization also offers a variety of training courses to better equip community members with land rights and administration concepts, GIS applications, data collection, and community engagement. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, trainings have become increasingly remote, however this has increased global accessibility.
In the future, Cadasta looks to the growth of their field teams, where partner employees have progressed from program specialists to country and regional managers. Pichel also looks forward to expanding their work in Uganda, a country Cadasta has been monitoring for many years. To learn more about Cadasta’s work in Uganda, check out this YouTube video detailing community land certificates in Namutumba, Uganda. Visit Cadasta’s website and check out their Global Impact Dashboard to see the crucial work they are doing throughout the world.