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Protecting land rights using Wikipedia-style maps

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Samrang Pring/Reuters/File

(Read caption) A girl cries during a protest in front of the ministry of justice in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in May 2012. Residents had gathered to demand the release of 15 land protesters, who were jailed over a land dispute with a Chinese firm after they clashed with police. Crowd-sourced or do-it-yourself land surveying could help small landowners prove their ownership.

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Imagine whipping out your smartphone, walking the boundaries of your property, and pressing “Send” to upload a map of your land to a common databank. You also could attach a photo of a legal contract proving your tenancy or ownership.

Building land inventories, Wikipedia-style, would be a cheap and easy way for poor, rural communities to compile a record of property rights and land usage patterns. It also could reduce corruption and help lessen illegal land grabs, said companies promoting the technologies and advocates of crowdsourcing at a World Bank conference on Land and Poverty in April.

“Governments are so dysfunctional in many part of the world, this lets communities lay down a record of their land rights, and resolve disputes amongst themselves,” said Brent Jones, marketing director at ESRI, a mapping company that launched a free mobile application in April.

The pressure to record land tenure is mounting worldwide. Since 2005, investors have accelerated their purchase of large swathes of land, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia, for commercial agriculture, biofuels, mining, energy, and lumber to meet the growing global demand for food and resources as China and other developing countries industrialize.


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