Securing Land Tenure through Automation

Land administration and cadastral systems play a crucial global role in safeguarding the security of access to land and natural resources. Automation of land administration through the use of information technology has become increasingly common and similarly the appreciation that automated systems can contribute positively to land tenure security through providing systems that:

  • involve elements of best land administration practices;
  • are sensitive to the customs and laws of the country;
  • do not create an unacceptable dependency on expertise or items of equipment that are difficult to obtain, maintain and afford; and
  • are sustainable.

When done correctly, automation improves efficiency and transparency through the standardisation of land administration practices along with better access to land information records. This in turn has a positive impact on the overall governance of land tenure.

Another benefit of automation is to reduce many of the drivers behind inappropriate land office staff behaviour making it easier to detect and more traceable if it does occur. Well published standards of service delivery and the ability to monitor each application processed against those standards provide a level of transparency impossible to achieve with paper based systems. In addition, using automated business rules to automatically validate the information entered for an application in preference to manual checking not only allows application processing to be streamlined, but also reduces the need for land office staff to apply discretion. This further reduces the possibility of coercion or the temptation for staff to behave inappropriately. Changes to processes and business rules also require a systematic controlled approach, reducing the ability for ad-hoc changes and variations.

Automation in Developing Countries

While automation is becoming more prevalent in developing countries, they have largely lagged behind developed countries in the introduction of computerised systems. Often where automation has been introduced, this has been achieved by taking a highly sophisticated system from a developed country and implementing it in a way that could be likened to a “copy and paste” action of a word processing software package. Not only is this type of implementation insensitive to the law, customs and practices of the host country, these systems often require a high level of expertise to operate and maintain in countries where skills may be in short supply. In most cases there are also on-going commercial software licence and software support fees that need to be paid each year. After the project for the initial implementation is completed even more demands are made on already stretched local budgets to cover further licence fees to be paid as the system is rolled-out to other district offices.

One option for addressing these issues is the use of open source software. Open source means that, unlike proprietary software, developers have access to the software’s “engine”, which can be freely modified and extended. Open source solutions are more flexible and adaptable to local conditions and languages than proprietary software. By using and improving open source software, land administration agencies can build local knowledge and contribute to the public development of open source projects (via web communities, etc.) that can in turn benefit other land administration agencies world-wide.

Solutions for Open Land Administration (SOLA)

In December 2012, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) successfully concluded the Solutions for Open Land Administration (SOLA) project. The 2.5 year project was funded by the Government of Finland and dedicated to implementing an open source computerised cadastre and registration system that is both affordable and sustainable in the context of developing countries. The open source software produced by the SOLA project (also called SOLA) was based on international good practice for service delivery, responsible governance of tenure (including transparency of process and transparency of tenure details), robust data management and the need for enterprise scale software. The underlying data structures used by the SOLA software are also based on the Land Administration Domain Model (LADM), now published as ISO 19152 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

As the laws and practices governing land administration are often unique to a country, SOLA was designed to be customisable so that it could appropriately reflect the laws and practices of the host country. To test the effectiveness of the software and the approach used for customisation, the SOLA project included three pilot implementations in Ghana, Nepal and Samoa. Each pilot implementation was undertaken by a team of local software developers who were first trained by an FAO SOLA mentor so they could undertake the required customizations, support the pilot implementations and maintain the software. Each pilot presented its own challenges with many lessons learned by the FAO SOLA Team along the way.

Along with the Samoa Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Nepal Ministry of Land Reform and Management there are now seven operational implementations of SOLA including the Lesotho Land Administration Authority, the Tonga Ministry of Lands, Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources and implementations supporting systematic land titling and registration work in Ondo, Kaduna Kano and Kogi States (Nigeria). Various extensions to the original SOLA software have been developed through these implementations including support for systematic registration, lease management, inclusion of orthophoto layers and an interface to finance systems.

Interest in SOLA continues to grow and FAO has continued to support SOLA through the assistance available to countries wanting to implement the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT). In this new context, SOLA is seen as an excellent example of an enabling technology that improves transparency and service delivery in land administration agencies – key elements to improve land tenure governance. The European Union has offered its support through the VGGT by funding the Arabic, French and Russian versions of SOLA as well as the preliminary work for the Mass Property Valuation extension. Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese translations of the original SOLA software (now called Registry) are also available

Evolution of SOLA

Development of SOLA has continued at a fast pace to the point where the original SOLA software has now evolved into a suite of solutions under the SOLA umbrella.

  • Registry - The original SOLA software for land administration agencies that require a secure, robust and transparent tenure registration solution. Registry provides integrated registration and cadastral functions, case management and a LADM compliant database.
  • Systematic Registration - Designed to support systematic registration activities where tenure information is collected for the first time. Systematic Registration produces public display listings and maps, generates title certificates and can transfer data to district or national land offices enabling centralized control and maintenance of tenure records.
  • State Land - Based on the original SOLA software, State Land assists both national and local governments to manage land and property that is owned, occupied or controlled by the state from acquisition through to disposal.
  • Open Tenure - A mobile application developed for both Andriod and iOS devices that facilitates recording of tenure rights by a community
  • Community Server - A web based portal for recording and moderating the tenure rights captured by a community. Community Server is integrated with the Open Tenure mobile solution but can also be used independently.
  • Web Admin - A web based administration console providing a single port of administration for all SOLA solutions deployed within a host organisation. 

Other complementary solutions that have been proposed for the SOLA suite include;

  • Mass Valuation - To derive property values for general property taxation purposes using mass appraisal techniques. 
  • Public - A web based portal allowing the general public to search and view tenure information as well as obtain tenure details through and Open Data compliant interface.
  • Addressing - To support street naming and property number allocation for emergency service location and general government administration.
  • Forest Tenure - To assist with administration of Forest tenure.
  • Fisheries Tenure - To assist with administration of Fisheries tenure.
  • Pastoral Tenure - To assist with administration of Pastoral tenure.

Development of the proposed solutions will be dependent on the requirements of new countries undertaking SOLA implementations, however new funding is also being sought to enhance the existing SOLA solutions as well as accelerate the development of new solutions.