By now, believe it or not, you’ve heard of how the blockchain technology can be applied to anything and everything! An interesting application is its use for land title registration. An efficient land title registration is key to developing a country’s agriculture and infrastructure, among others, as it offers security of land tenure. Unfortunately, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) including Ghana have been unable to put in place an effective and efficient system for land acquisition, land valuation and record keeping.
Land in Ghana is generally classified into four types; Stool Land (managed by Chiefs), Family land (managed by heads of family and/or their representatives), State-owned and Freehold. The majority of the land, about 80%, is customarily owned by chiefs and families. Stool and family lands allow for user rights, including; sharecropping, customary freehold, usufruct rights and individual leaseholds for a period of less than 100 years. Transactions are usually done orally, resulting in a good number of disputes.
Formally, land is registered in Ghana under two systems: Land Title Registration and Land Deeds Registration. Land Title Registration is applicable where the land is located in the Greater Accra Region and in the inner city of Kumasi, in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. Land Deeds registration is application for all other locations. These systems have challenges, some of which are outlined below, and the blockchain has been proposed as a way of minimising and/or eliminating these challenges.
- Identification of owners
When anyone wants to use buy and/or lease land in the country, he or she must first identify the particular piece of land and the rightful owners. Identification of the ‘rightful’ owner is by no means an easy feat. The traditional system of inheritance and the family structure means that there can be (and in many cases, there are) many ‘rightful’ owners of the land. Hence, negotiations for the sale or lease of land can involve a number of people, all of whom may have a legitimate claim to the ownership of the land. Unless the buyer is able to satisfy all the claimants, no land can be purchased.
In addition, someone else may have also identified this same piece of land and negotiated its sale with another’ legitimate’ owner of the land. This leads to issues of counterclaims and contestation which may take years to be resolved. Some lives have been lost in such disputes.
Furthermore, another legitimate owner may surface years after you have acquired the land to demand payment for the same asset. I know of a family and their neighbours, some of which had bought their land and built their homes about 20 years ago, going to court with ‘legitimate‘ owners who recently turned up to ask for payment for the lands as they had not been part of the initial and original payment made.
Very often, landowners also sell the same piece of land to different people.
- Lack of digital records
Even when the land has been correctly identified and documented with the Lands Commission (the government agency in charge of registering land), it can be extremely difficult to verify information as the record keeping system is paper-based. It can take more than a month to find a file. In other circumstances, a particular file may have been misfiled or entirely missing from the records. These challenges make room for corruption and rent seeking by officials, sellers and buyers.
- Multiple registration
Lack of digital records and the possibility of a number of legitimate owners of the land leads to multiple registration of land and litigation.
How the blockchain seeks to change things
It is said that 90% of lands in Ghana are not registered. Having a publicly accessible and difficult to change record of land ownership will have the effect of (i) a reduction in land litigation cases (ii) minimisation and elimination of fraudulent sales and purchases and (iii) increased security in the use of land as collateral for loans, among others.
Bitland Ghana is part of Bitland Global LLC. The white paper of the company states ‘the mission of the Bitland Project is to register land and real property ownership and use rights in a secure, easily-accessible electronic format to allow for timely access of ownership and rights information, and to educate people on the importance of strong property rights in the prosperity of the nation.’
Bitland Ghana is trialling blockchain land registration in Kumasi – the second largest city in Ghana, with the view of expanding to other countries in Africa. They use the OpenLedger platform by BitShares as the basis of their blockchain. The first phase of the project involves ensuring current land titles are accurate and up to date in the participating communities. Since the blockchain requires a reliable supply of electricity and internet connectivity (infrastructure), Bitland will build centres (as part of a 4 your plan) to connect communities to a wi-fi network and reliable electricity.
The Bitland blockchain uses a token, Cadastral, for its operations. Cadastral is needed to buy or sell land, register a land title, buy properties, settle disputes, among others. Cadastral is not mined and a maximum of 30 million Cadastrals will be created. 20 million Cadastrals was made available in Bitland’s ICO held in 2016. 3 million Cadastrals will be used as block rewards over the next 99 years, 2 million for the payment of employees and contractors, 4 million will be sold directly to governments and 1 million privately sold to fund a multi-currency reserve including the US dollar, Ghana Cedi and Bitcoin. Furthermore, 20% of proceeds from the use of cadastral on the blockchain will go to a reserve.
Bitland Ghana works with the Lands Commission and currently states that it has clients including companies, farm unions and individuals. In 2017, the company identified finance as one of its greatest challenges.
A database is only as good as the quality of information recorded on it. To ensure that the blockchain use in land registration is successful, the information put on it must be extremely accurate. The blockchain will not solve the problem of counterclaims which are generally difficult and time-consuming to prove and/disprove. Rather, this may prove to be a challenge in ensuring that accurate information is captured. Second, how commercially viable is this way of storing information as compared to strengthening the Lands Commission to digitise their record keeping? Third, there needs to be more information and education on the use of tokens on land registration platforms. Not much has been heard from the project in 2018. Nonetheless, the success of the project will be a significant sign of progress in making land tenure security a reality in places such as Ghana.
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