In Bolivia, where 65 percent of the population is indigenous and 83 percent of the rural population lives below the poverty line, landlessness is one of the best predictors of poverty. While the Bolivian government has enacted policies to improve land access and tenure security, progress has been slow and as of 2009, only 37% of Bolivian land had been formally titled.
To address this issue, Mercy Corps – Red Tierras under funding from the private sector, has partnered with Fundación Tierra, a long-established local land rights organization, in order to assist rural communities in documenting their property rights.
Fundación Tierra has been working with local communities for years on land issues and with support from Mercy Corps – Red Tierras, was able to partner and bring to bear technology in order to increase the efficiency of their operations by utilizing handheld global positioning systems (GPS), digital cameras, an SMS based support line and a software system to manage textual and spatial details of property rights. Over the course of their pilot program working with seven target communities, the use of technology has resulted in an 80% reduction in the time needed to record rights and an estimated 25% cost savings, as compared to twenty three control communities. Property rights have now been recognized and documented at the community level for approximately 2,100 citizens and it is expected that the government will issue formal titles to these individuals in the coming months.
While formal titles may reduce conflict, promote security of rights and lead to better economic outcomes, USAID research suggests that additional examination of the benefits and use of formalization is warranted. In some cases formalization may not be appropriate or necessary to achieve increases in economic outcomes. As this research paper points out, land titling alone is not a panacea, but merely only one tool within a property rights system that might include inclusion of other documents pertaining to land rights, or even oral testimony.
While progressive laws in Bolivia allow indigenous communities to manage their own property rights, inefficiencies in the government and community processes in demarcating and recording rights has been a bottleneck in the formalization process. According to Program Manager Marcelo Viscarra, “The use of technology has allowed us to reduce the time and cost needed to document rights, and we look forward to scaling up this project across Bolivia… and Latin America.”
For more information, watch their video describing the activity. This project was not funded by USAID.