A researcher collecting data. CIFOR/Nanang Sujana

Factoring in land rights in the push for sustainable landscapes

Cadasta documents data

WASHINGTON (Landscape News) – What do land rights have to do with building the investment case for sustainable landscapes? According to land administration specialist Frank Pichel, a great deal.

“Whether you look  at conservation, climate change, service delivery, infrastructure or equitable access to finance… they all have property right angles,” says Pichel, who will be a speaker at the Global Landscapes Forum Third Annual GLF Investment Case Symposium in Washington, on May 30.

In 2014, he co-founded the Cadasta Foundation, which helps partners use simple, low-cost, high-tech tools to digitally document and share critical land and resource rights information. The goal is to help organizations, communities and governments put vulnerable communities on the map and make data-driven decisions.

“Despite many years and many hundreds of millions of USD (U.S. dollars) going into big land information system projects at national and capital-city level, ownership rights of 70 per cent of the land in developing countries is undocumented,” he says. Hence, the emphasis of Cadasta Foundation on a bottom-up approach.


Currently interim chief executive and chief programs officer at Cadasta, Pichel has designed and implemented land-related projects with a technology focus around the globe. He has worked both with the private sector in West Africa and with the Land Tenure and Property Rights Office of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

He notes that the technology around data collection is getting ever cheaper and more accurate with each passing year, meaning that new tools “can drastically increase the data collected and share it much more easily.” Yet, he warns against seeing technology as a silver bullet.

“It is not like we get a new technology, turn it on, and prosperity will ensue, and everyone can relax,” he says. “Technology is just a tool, and enabling factors such as better governance and rule of law ultimately need to be accomplished as well.”


According to Pichel, Cadasta Foundation partners around the globe are not only using the data to claim secure property rights, but for traceability purposes.

The entity, for example, is working with an oil-palm union in Tanzania to help them better understand their suppliers and more about the background data and history of each parcel of land. The goal is to be able to trace the product back to its producer.

Pichel notes that investors also need this data, as well as an understanding of who has rights. “Beyond securing property rights, it is also about making that data useful for both agricultural organizations and big buyers looking for traceability and certification.”


The GLF symposium, themed “Building the Investment Case for Sustainable Landscapes and Restoration,” will convene 250 experts to advance the application of sustainable finance for land management and tackle the challenge of funding the restoration of more than 2 billion hectares of degraded land worldwide, a footprint larger than South America.

Land degradation is estimated to cost the global economy as much as $4.5 trillion a year, while economic benefits of restoration efforts are an estimated $84 billion a year. At least 7 million hectares of tropical forest landscapes are cleared and degraded each year, putting livelihoods, biodiversity, and food security at risk, exacerbating climate change, conflict and human migration.

By engaging with actors from the worlds of business, politics, academia and civil society, Pichel hopes to “better understand how others are looking at the landscape, and how others perceive the role of property rights.”

“For some people it [property rights to land] might not seem relevant to sustainability or conservation but, from my perspective, it is a cross-cutting foundational issue,” he says. From his perspective, though, it is essential that experts make the discussion about land rights more approachable.

For Pichel, “the property rights or land tenure sector is very much jargon-filled and there is a lot of preaching to the choir, but making those connections about property rights is important for the sake of so many sustainable development challenges”.

“When other sectors look at implementation, it is up to the land community to make the case that they need to factor in the land component.” The GLF symposium will present him with a chance to do precisely that.



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