Land is at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In contexts where people depend on agriculture and other land-based livelihoods, secure access to land is an important enabler for poverty eradication and enhancing social inclusion. How land is owned and governed is therefore a crucial element in achieving diverse national and global goals relating to food and nutrition security, gender equality, land degradation neutrality, sustainable water and energy access, biodiversity conservation, and climate action.
At the same time, decisions over how to allocate land and other natural resources to meet diverse economic, social, and environmental needs must be made against a backdrop of increased land scarcity and competition. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has acknowledged
, for example, that land-based climate change mitigation measures can increase pressure on land and have adverse effects on food security. To ensure that no one is left behind, it is essential to safeguard the rights of those whose livelihood depends on land and natural resources.
With the exponential rise in access to mobile phones and other digital technologies, there is an expectation that digitalization can help accelerate progress towards the SDGs by lowering barriers to accessing knowledge, support actors, markets, financing and other critical inputs. However, the question remains whether the demonstrated benefits of digital technologies can also overcome entrenched power dynamics and governance failures that deny land tenure security to some of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities.
Exploring the potential of digitalization in the land sector
One of the potential applications of digital tools to land governance challenges is collecting real-time evidence about land rights violations and conflicts. Digital connectivity can also help mobilize advocacy networks and facilitate access to support services. Notwithstanding, digital tools are not inherently fair or inclusive. To genuinely represent the realities of the most excluded groups, such tools must be explicitly placed in the hands of those who already have little say in land management decisions, whether at the household, community, or higher levels.
This is why TMG has teamed up with the Kenya Land Alliance (KLA) and the Rain Forest Foundation UK, to design a low-cost, accessible reporting tool for women’s land tenure issues. The aim is to provide a platform for those directly affected by insecure land access, while generating policy-relevant data that can drive land reform and other structural improvements.
Developing the digital reporting tool
Building on KLA networks in Taita Taveta and Kakamega counties of Kenya, the project is developing a mobile-based reporting tool that will be supported by data hubs at the county and national level. The reporting mechanism will aggregate real-time data sent in through text messages, as well as in-person reporting via community-based KLA members. The information will be further verified through internet-based, high detail data sourcing.
From the outset, the project has adopted a realistic view of the potential of digital technologies. It seeks to pursue several precautionary principles to ensure that proposed solutions will contribute to tackling entrenched gender dynamics on the ground. These include:
Ensuring that the process to design and roll out the reporting tool draws from a broad base of knowledge and perspectives (including through linking non-formal or traditional knowledge to technical expertise).
Factoring in existing social practices relating to information access and knowledge sharing and access based on the question: how can digital tools replicate and/or enhance existing efforts to strengthen responsible land governance at community and higher levels?
Exploring broader structural barriers that hinder the creation of an enabling environment for women’s land tenure security and the role that digital tools can play.
Assessing the potential impact of the tool
The land rights reporting tool will further complement ongoing work by TMG and partners in four African countries exploring how to engage local communities more meaningfully in national land restoration initiatives, such as the Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) target of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Despite the demonstrated impact of climate change across the African continent, continuing data gaps at the local level prevent the formulation of context-specific and people-sensitive interventions. Given the increasing risk of land rights violations linked to large-scale restoration programmes, it is critical that the needs of the most severely affected populations are fully considered in such efforts. A reporting tool that enables women, young people and other marginalized groups to provide real-time information and perspectives can greatly contribute to meaningful participation in higher-level decision-making processes.
Ultimately, however, the full impact of the tool will be measured in terms of how it contributes to strengthening land tenure security for vulnerable people, enabling them to invest in soil and land restoration at the farm and landscape level. One of the “reality checks” for the tool might be the extent to which it equips KLA and its partners to influence and strengthen advocacy towards land governance processes at sub-national and national level, hence contributing to improved policies, budgets and support services for women, the landless and other vulnerable groups.
TMG and its partners believe that this body of work will also generate important insights for the broader discourse related to the digitalization of development. If you are interested in learning more about the project or contributing to future workshops and exchanges please contact the project coordinator, David Betge
For more information on TMG’s work on gender and land rights, please visit our Land Governance Programme
Photo credit: Mwanzo Milinga | IFAD