Close this search box.
Close this search box.

on land

1.1 Fit-for-purpose land mapping

Guideline for land problems / PREVENTING: 1.1 Fit-for-purpose land mapping

Interventions and evidence explained

Most plausible interventions explained

During the orientation process of the available literature, we identified the following interventions as most plausible for documenting in ownership or use of land disputes:

  • Land title registration
  • Fit-for-purpose land mapping

Land title registration

Fit-for-purpose land mapping

Selected interventions for comparison (defined as a PICO question)

For parties looking to prevent an ownership or use of land dispute, is documenting through land title registration or fit-for-purpose land mapping more effective for well-being?

Search strategy

The databases used are: HeinOnline, Westlaw, Wiley Online Library, JSTOR, Taylor & Francis, and ResearchGate.


For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: land dispute resolution; land documentation; land title registration; fit-for-purpose land mapping; fit-for-purpose land administration

Assessment and grading of evidence

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:

Quality of evidence and research gap

According to our research method, we grade the evidence comparing land title registration and FTP land mapping for ownership and use of land disputes as low. There is a dearth of medium to large scale empirical research on this topic, as well as meta-analyses or systematic reviews. This may be explained by the reality that national buy-in is typically required to test (let alone implement) land documentation interventions, making expert opinions based on case studies and small empirical studies the most practical forms of research.

Comparing the two interventions

Desirable outcomes of the interventions

Land title registration
Fit-for-purpose land mapping
Land title registration supports land ownership security. As evidence of legal ownership, title registration systems “can play a role in the resolution of land ownership disputes in the state-sponsored courts or can contribute to security as registered land title under the system can be tended as evidence of legal ownership” (Abdulai & Ochien, 2016, p. 37).
Unlike land title registration, fit-for-purpose land mapping is inclusive of all rights and people-land relationships. These include, for example: ownership, possession, occupation, informal, and disputes. This inclusivity increases its reliability (Molendijk et al. 2018).
By “facilitat[ing] communication, information sharing, networking and transactions,” land title registration can benefit owners, users, and purchasers of land economically. As a record keeping system, land registration helps overcome problems of asymmetrical information and moral hazard and “facilitates land activities or transactions, thereby reducing transactions costs” (Abdulai & Ochien, 2016, p. 38).
Mobile GIS, a commonly used technology in FFP land mapping, “has the potential to reverse the present crisis of growing unrecorded land and property and incomplete land administration in developing economies. As a system of record and data collection methodology for land administration, ArcGIS and mobile apps can help migrate a huge number of property-owning citizens into national legal systems in a very short period of time, both securing citizen tenure rights and increasing property tax revenue to properly fund government” (Lemmen & Molendijk, 2017, p. 4).
Documentation through land title registration can facilitate the resolution of ownership and use of land disputes, which has tangible and psychological benefits for the parties involved. “Undeniably, when ownership is documented, it is normally easy to prove when it is disputed” (Abdulai & Ochien, 2016, p. 37).
FFP land mapping allows data collection to be done in an integrated way, meaning administrative data (the identity of the land owner or claimant) can be linked to spatial data (the surveyed land parcels) from the field. This makes the land rights documentation process efficient for the parties involved. “The perimeter [of the surveyed land] is stored as a closed polygon together with the type of right or people-land relationship…combined with a photo and ID of the owner or claimant. In this way the names and other relevant attributes and polygons (representing measured parcels) can be linked already in the field. Digital photos can be attached; existing documents like passports and IDs, selfies, photos of groups of owners; photos of existing legal documents like deeds or titles; photos of e.g. electricity bills liking somehow the person(s) to the parcel; and photos of the boundaries can all be linked to the walked and observed polygon” (Molendijk et al., 2018, p. 10).
Lands owners and users who register their land may benefit from additional safeguards against fraud or mistakes made in the land documentation process. “In some jurisdictions, the state indemnifies or pays compensation (from an indemnity fund set up) to owners who suffer any loss due to negligence, mistakes, errors and omissions from title registration as well as fraud unless the owners contributed substantially to the occurrence of these events” (Abdulai & Ochien, p. 34).
Lands owners and users who register their land may benefit from additional safeguards against fraud or mistakes made in the land documentation process. “In some jurisdictions, the state indemnifies or pays compensation (from an indemnity fund set up) to owners who suffer any loss due to negligence, mistakes, errors and omissions from title registration as well as fraud unless the owners contributed substantially to the occurrence of these events” (Abdulai & Ochien, p. 34).
Local participation in FFP land mapping creates community ownership of the process and increases trust in the data collected (Molendijk et al. 2018). ”The real and expensive collection of boundary data with field evidence can be done with boys and girls from the village and the land right holders” (Molendijk et al., 2018, p. 17). “The first results from the pilots in the field demonstrate that this approach works: young people (with strong legs able to walk the perimeters of parcels and spatial units in mountainous and other areas in the Colombia) could be educated in several hours, be tested, and consequently then use the App and collect the spatial and administrative data together with the farmers…Young people were eager to join and performed the land surveys well” (Molendijk et al., 2018, p. 8).
FFP land mapping clarifies and documents land boundaries to traditional owners and users of land, making them easier to enforce. “When boundaries are clearly defined, land boundary disputes would be minimal; accurate and precise well-defined boundaries are easier to enforce and cost less to protect as they are easily observable by other community members. This ingredient is very critical when one considers Africa, particularly, in the traditional system of land ownership where, generally, land boundaries are shown on the ground by a combination of streams/rivers, old trees/hedges, valleys, hills and paths. Certainly, this has sustainability problems as, for instance, trees can perish and paths can vanish. The solution to this problem, requires a scientific way of demarcating land boundaries – land surveying and pillaring to produce permanent boundary lines and maps or plans, which ensures that there is documentation of the boundaries, but doing this does not necessarily require land registration” (Abdulai & Ochien, 2016, p. 36).
FFP land mapping empowers users and owners of land with increased understanding of their rights. “It should be noted that often farmers do not know the legal status of their specific land rights, whether it is ownership, possession, occupation or informal tenure. Collected evidence in the field brings clarity (actas confirming buying/selling and available titles or tax invoices). It is better to ask farmers for this type of evidence, then to ask them for the type of relation between people and land” (Molendijk et al., 2018, p. 17).
FFP land mapping helps local authorities understand the precise nature of ownership and use of land disputes in their jurisdiction, which may help them to prioritize cases for resolution. “During the collection process in the field, a dispute means the walking of and the creation of overlaps between polygons. Those overlaps are mapped and the corresponding authorities know exactly where to solve which type of land related conflict (Molendijk et al., 2018, p. 11).
FFP land mapping allows comparison with legally known data to the extent that any is available, which facilitates land title certification and makes the documentation process as a whole more comprehensive. “This means a comparison of the agreed and collected data with the cadastral and land registry data. If this comparison concludes that the data can be legally accepted the certificate of title can be handed over and registration and cadastral map updating can be performed” (Molendijk et al., 2018, p. 13).
FFP land mapping can facilitate land registration. “Rwanda is a particularly good example where a nationwide systematic land registration started after piloting in 2009 and was completed in only four years. Boundaries of spatial units were identified on prints of aerial photos in a highly participatory approach using para-professionals (locally trained land officers). This reduced the need for conventional surveying techniques to a minimum. The highly efficient approach resulted in about 10 million spatial units being registered with an average unit cost of around US$ 6 per parcel” (Enemark et al., 2015, p. 11).
“The FFP approach has been successfully implemented nationwide in a number of developing countries and the results provide excellent best practice for other countries to use. New FFP approaches have recently been tested in implementing countrywide land administration solutions in countries such as Rwanda, Ethiopia and Kyrgzstan” (Enemark et al., 2015, p. 11).

Undesirable outcomes of the intervention

Land title registration
Fit-for-purpose (FFP) land mapping
Land title registration does not guarantee land ownership security. “Empirical evidence from various studies conducted in countries like Ghana (Abdulai and Owusu-Ansah, 2014; Abdulai, 2010; Abdulai et al., 2007), Cambodia and Rwanda (Durand-Lasserve and Payne, 2006), Afghanistan (World Bank, 2006), Philippines and Honduras (World Bank, 2005), Egypt (Sims, 2002), India (Banerjee, 2002), Ivory Coast (Stamm, 2000), Uganda (McAuslan, 2000), and Kenya (McAuslan, 2000; Migot-Adholla et al., 1994), has shown that landownership security cannot be assured via land registration” (Abdulai & Ochien, p. 32). Studies conducted in unauthorized settlements in Mexico (Angel et al., 2006), Tanzania (Kironde, 2006), South Africa (Allanic, 2003) and Peru (Ramirez et al., 2005; Kagawa and Turkstra, 2002) came to the same conclusion that “ownership security did not emanate from land registration” (Abdulai & Ochien, 2016, p. 32).
Fit-for-purpose land mapping “is not driven by state of the art positioning and surveying technology. This requires a mindset change across land professionals, recognition of the benefits of change, and an effective change change management strategy driven by strong leadership” (Enemark et al., 2015, p. 11). Absent this political will, FFP land mapping may not be possible.
Land registration can disadvantage poor and vulnerable land owners (and users) and create opportunities for their displacement. “Land registration can disadvantage poor people who lose the security provided by the traditional systems of landownership whilst being unable to complete the bureaucratic process of land registration – in worst cases, it has created opportunities for the powerful in society to override traditional systems of ownership, thereby, displacing vulnerable owners” (Durand-Lasserve and Payne, 2006) (Abdulai & Ochien, 2016, p. 32).
Effective capacity development is fundamental to the success of the FFP land mapping. This requires extra effort on the part of government agencies and civil society. “Society must understand, through well-targeted communication campaigns that this simpler, less expensive, and highly participatory approach is just as effective and secure as conventional surveying methodologies. Formal organisations, such as government agencies, private sector and community based organisations need to ensure awareness and up-to-date skills of their members and staff” (Enemark et al., 2015, p. 12).
Land registration can create “new sources of conflicts if formal land rights are assigned without due recognition of traditional arrangements” (Abdulai & Ochien, 2016, p. 32). “The statutory system is less than legitimate to many smallholders, especially for dispute resolution. The incorporation of customary forms of evidence into the formal land tenure system (land law) is a fundamental step in making such evidence legitimate within the formal system, and the formal system legitimate to smallholders” (Uruh, 2006, p. 31). Customary forms of evidence may include unregistered documentary evidence, physical possession and occupation of the land, agroforestry trees, and oral evidence from witnesses (Abdulai & Ochien 2016; Unruh 2006).
Legislative reform may be necessary “to provide the required flexibility to accommodate the FFP approach. Changes to laws can be problematic and time consuming and politicians need to be well briefed on the need for change” (Enemark et al., 2015, p. 12).
Registered land ownership is not necessarily given more evidentiary weight than traditional or unregistered land ownership in court. “Title Registration is not the only source of legal ownership. In most jurisdictions in Africa, although proof of traditional land ownership is not based on registration or any form of documentation, such ownership is recognised by their legal systems” (Abdulai & Ochien, 2016, p. 37). A 2014 study found that “out of the 91 land cases involving registered landownership that were filed in state-sponsored courts and resolved over a ten-year period, 43 cases (47 per cent) were decided in favour of registered ownership, whilst 48 cases (53 per cent) were decided in favour of unregistered ownership…State-sponsored courts will normally examine the facts of each case based on the available evidence in order to establish to the requisite standard, the truth about who actually owns the land to ensure that there is no miscarriage of justice; thus, judgements are delivered based on the truth about ownership and not the fact of registration” (Abdulai & Owusu-Ansah, 2014) (Talibe Abdulai & Ochien, 2016, p. 36).
The association of land registration and land ownership security may incentivize fraud and contribute to land tenure insecurity. “The continuous promotion of land registration based on the assertion that it makes title indefeasible or assures security can be an incentive for unscrupulous people to employ whatever fraudulent means available to register other people’s landed property rights in their names, which is a recipe for confusion and can rather be a source of insecurity” (Abdulai & Ochien, 2016, p. 42).”
Land title registration initiatives often fail because they try to implement universal or mandatory land titling and demarcation without taking into consideration the trade-offs for the land owners involved. “Due to the presence of fixed per-parcel demarcation costs, more extensive and precise demarcation (as well as titling, generally) is often only suitable for higher value land.” (Arruñada, 2018, p. 6). “In the presence of fixed costs and the absence of externalities, it is individually optimal to subject low-value land to less precise demarcation, and it is socially optimal to allow voluntary demarcation. On the contrary, mandatory demarcation may lead to under-titling and over-demarcation” (Arruñada, 2018, p. 28).
Land title registration initiatives “often pay little, if any, attention to the legal dimension of land demarcation.” “In order for demarcation to produce effects on third parties, such party-led physical demarcation must be accepted by all other interested parties—which in this case mainly means the neighbors of each particular parcel” (Arruñada, 2018, p. 6).

Balance of Outcomes

Taken together, the available research suggests that whereas land title registration provides evidence of ownership that is economically beneficial to the state and some owners and users of land, it does not guarantee land tenure security and can even be a source of conflict and greater insecurity. The transparent, flexible and inclusive nature of fit-for-purpose (FFP) land mapping makes it more conducive to the well-being of the parties to ownership and use of land disputes, particularly in developing countries.

This is evidenced by the fact that the desirable outcomes of FFP land mapping clearly outweigh those of land title registration. According to the research, FFP land mapping: accounts for all people-land relationships; clarifies land boundaries and rights to traditional owners and users of land (as well as local authorities); is more likely to be trusted and respected by third parties in the community; and is less vulnerable to fraudulent or exploitative land claims that generate conflict. FFP land mapping also has a clear track record of success, at least in developing countries where land documentation is most often lacking. 

Meanwhile, the undesirable outcomes of land title registration clearly outweigh those of FFP land mapping. The political challenges presented by FFP land mapping may be worth bearing when one considers the failures of land title registration in developing countries and the risk that it results in the displacement of poor and/or traditional owners and users of land.  Therefore, FFP land mapping for prevention and resolution of ownership or use of land disputes is preferred.


Taking into account the balance of outcomes, the value of a flexible, transparent, and inclusive approach to land rights documentation in developing countries, and the quality and consistency of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: For parties to an ownership or use of land dispute, FFP land mapping is more conducive to well-being than land title registration.

Table of Contents

1. Recommendations on PREVENTING
1.1 Fit-for-purpose land mapping