In the first week of June, the International Land Coalition (ILC) coordinated a workshop to design a Rangelands Observatory, intended to link a network of organizations that will partner in an effort to collectively monitor land acquisitions in rangeland areas, and promote more participatory decision making in regards to land use.
Because rangelands that lack permanent residents are often seen as being under-utilized and free from use rights, they are particularly at risk of being acquired by investors through large-scale land acquisitions. However these rangelands are often crucial to the survival of grazing animals – both wild and domesticated – as well as to the communities whose livelihoods depend on those animals.
Over the course of the workshop it was noted that only about half of the 30+ attending organizations had defined the boundaries of their traditional grazing areas using some form of geospatial technology. The need to spatially define claims and use rights relevant to pastoralists was quickly recognized and the possibility of utilizing crowd sourced spatially referenced data was raised.
As the Rangelands Observatory and similar regional observatories are developed, it will be interesting to see whether such crowd sourced data regarding grazing rights might provide a level of protection to traditional land users that might lack formal documentation. Lessons learned by the Rangeland Observatory could also be applied in other countries where USAID is working on pastoral tenure issues, such as Ethiopia.
Through the recently launched Evaluation, Research and Communication (ERC) project, USAID is also exploring opportunities for using low-cost mobile phone technology to collect geospatial data and demarcate boundaries through crowd sourced methods. According to Frank Pichel, USAID Land Tenure and Property Rights Specialist, “We are looking at ways to leverage increasingly available and low cost technologies with innovative data collection models to help record and protect the property rights of some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations.”