Mapping land boundaries is an important way to boost a country’s economic growth and development. It contributes towards better security of land ownership, allows land owners to get bank loans and helps governments to tax owners correctly.
Unfortunately in most African countries only about 30% of the land boundaries have been mapped. Mapping is done to capture the land’s boundaries with a view to registering ownership. Once mapping is completed, usually using techniques like Global Positioning Systems (GPS), authorities can issue a title deed or certificate of occupancy. This shows who holds rights to which pieces of land.
In Kenya during the 1960s photographs taken from airplanes were used to develop property maps. Kenyans were agitating for their land rights after the colonial British government had been unseated. The title deeds that were handed out as a result of those airplane photographs have formed the basis of Kenya’s property system for decades.
Today, aerial photographs from drones can be used for mapping property boundaries. In most parts of Africa, people demarcate their land using hedges. Ground land surveying techniques can be slow if the aim is to record all the parcels of land within a district or province.
But drones can be used to photograph hedges from the air. The maps developed from those photos are then linked to land ownership records to create formal land registers. This is an important way to record and keep track of land ownership in any given country.
I am involved in a project funded by the European Commission, its4land, that is testing the use of drones – or, as they’re properly called, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – for land mapping and registration. The research is being carried out in three African countries; Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Our hope is that if the research yields positive results, the project can be rolled out elsewhere on the continent. As far as we’re aware, this is among the first internationally to test the use of drones for land registration.
Putting the drones to work
Different types of UAVs can be used for mapping. The two main types are the fixed wing UAVs and the quad-copter UAVs. In general, the fixed wing drones look like a normal airplane with two wings.
We’re testing a fixed wing drone, DT18; it is produced by Delairtech, a French company. This type of drone is suitable for covering long distances – which is necessary when you’re mapping large areas’ property boundaries.