Learn About MAST

MAST blends participatory mapping approaches with flexible technology tools to help local communities who lack access to government services to document, manage and secure their land and resource rights.

The Challenge


More than 1 billion people around the world lack secure rights to their land, their homes, and the resources they depend on for their livelihoods. This land tenure insecurity, particularly among low-income households and women, remains at the core of the world’s most pressing development challenges, and contributes to conflict, gender-based violence, hunger, poverty, deforestation, and vulnerability to disaster.   

A key driver of land tenure insecurity is that households often lack documents to prove their land and property rights. It is estimated that nearly three-fourths of all land parcels globally are not documented. Women, youth, Indigenous Peoples and other vulnerable groups are more likely to lack documentation of their land and property rights.  

Low rates of land and property documentation are driven by a host of factors, including lack of government capacity or lack of willingness to map and title large areas of a country; high costs and slow, bureaucratic process for obtaining land documents; and discriminatory laws and social norms that might discourage certain members of a community from seeking these documents. 

What MAST Offers


MAST is a participatory mapping approach that solves this challenge by: 

(1) Identifying gaps in government-provided land services; 

(2) Helping community members understand the requirements and opportunities for filling these service delivery gaps by mapping, verifying, and documenting their land and resources in an efficient, sustainable, and inclusive manner using mobile devices; and 

(3) Empowering local communities and organizations as data collectors and verifiers, building their capacity to identify and deploy the right mix of technologies, tools, and methodologies to efficiently and affordably document their rights and to manage land information.

Over the last decade, USAID has supported communities in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia to use MAST in order to map hundreds of thousands of land parcels, helping thousands of people obtain more secure rights to the land they live and depend on. MAST has been rigorously tested, and a substantial and growing body of evidence shows that this flexible, participatory approach supports improved land tenure security in service of multiple other development objectives ranging from women’s empowerment and food security to climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation.

Who Uses MAST and Why?


To date, MAST has typically been used by local organizations and communities to collaboratively map and document property boundaries, and collect information about landholders. This information is then used for a variety of purposes, including issuing formal land documentation (via a government certificate), or informal land documentation (via a shared understanding with the local community). 

Because MAST involves the use of digital mapping tools that are not often accessible by local communities, local NGOs or local governments often provide communities with assistance and tools to implement the MAST process.

MAST users seek to document their land and resource rights for a variety of reasons, including:

Reducing property disputes icon

Reducing property disputes

Improving Access to Finance icon

Improving access to finance

Assisting with Conservation Activities icon

Assisting with conservation activities

Ensuring Property Can Pass to Heirs icon

Ensuring property can pass to heirs

Protecting Claims

Protecting the claims of women and other marginalized community members

De-risking Long Term Investments icon

De-risking long-term investments made on their land

Benefits of MAST

Evidence from a decade of research and implementation shows that in addition to being transparent, flexible, and inclusive, the MAST approach allows communities to map and document rights more quickly and for less money than traditional approaches. Specifically:

MAST increases the participation of women in the land documentation process, and also increases the rates at which women receive land documentation.

A key feature of MAST is that it encourages the participation of women and other community members who might not otherwise be included in the mapping process, for example by designating them as field data collectors and/or by delivering community training on inclusive land rights. 

In Tanzania, USAID’s Land Tenure Assistance (LTA) Activity used MAST to deliver nearly 100,000 customary land certificates (CCROs) across the country. At the conclusion of the activity, 50 percent of CCROs in Iringa District were held by women. An impact evaluation of the activity found that after LTA concluded, 83 percent of female primary spouses in treatment villages reported possession of a CCRO, compared to only 13 percent of primary spouses in the control group.

In Mozambique, USAID’s Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program implemented MAST in five provinces to document land rights through inclusive and gender-sensitive processes. ILRG registered over 16,000 women as traditional land owners, accounting for nearly 55 percent of all registrants. Data collected at the end of the project showed that 74 percent of survey respondents newly believed that women should be able to control and own land and resources in their own name compared to 45 percent of respondents who held those beliefs prior to the start of the project.

MAST lowers the incidence of land disputes.

The MAST approach encourages discussion and resolution of long-standing property disputes and thus has been proven to lower subsequent incidence of disputes. The impact evaluation of USAID’s LTA Activity found that the issuance of CCROs through MAST reduced by 32 percent the probability that respondents felt they could experience a boundary dispute in the next five years.

MAST reduces the cost of land documentation and land use planning.

In Tanzania, the LTA Activity decreased the cost of issuing CCROs from approximately $40 per parcel to $7.85 per parcel. The LTA Activity decreased threefold the cost of developing Village Land Use Plans, from $6,000 to $2,000.

MAST is flexible and fit for purpose.

MAST can be adapted to map and register different kinds of land and resources in accordance with local laws, regulations, customs, and languages. Over the last decade, USAID and its partners have adapted MAST across different countries, geographies, languages and political, legal, social, and economic systems. MAST is also technology-agnostic: USAID partners have implemented MAST using PostgreSQL databases, Open Data Kit and custom open source mobile data collection applications, along with other open source and commercial solutions for data workflow management, GIS analysis, and reporting.

MAST improves the efficiency of land documentation.

MAST allows users to map and document their land and resources in less time than traditional land administration methods.

In Burkina Faso, USAID’s Amélioration et Sécurisation des Terres vers la Résilience project used MAST to document land in 30 villages. The MAST approach mapped and documented customary land holdings roughly nine times faster than traditional mapping and surveying techniques.

In Zambia, USAID’s Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program used MAST to significantly reduce the travel distance required to access land certificates, delivering 40,000 certificates through participatory mapping processes across more than 900 villages.

MAST is perceived to be transparent and easy to use.

In Liberia, communities around the Blei Community Forest used MAST to document land and forest resources. A community baseline and endline survey found that Blei community members viewed the MAST process as clear, transparent and easy to use. In particular, prior to using MAST, 64 percent of community members were aware of the process for documenting the resources in the Blei Community Forest; that number increased to 96 percent after MAST implementation. Further, after using MAST to demarcate community boundaries, 96 percent of respondents said they felt their land and resource rights were more secure and protected.