March 27, 2014

Commentary Series: Satellite Technology and Innovation Can be Used to Secure Land and Property Rights

By Dr. Kumar Navulur
This post is part of a series developed by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Landesa to highlight the importance of securing land rights for smallholder farmers. This series is running concurrently with the World Bank’s 2014 Land and Poverty Conference taking place in Washington, DC. Follow the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #landrights.

Recent years have seen advances in satellite remote sensing technology that can be used to address land and property rights globally. Some key innovations include the ability of these remote sensing systems to collect large areas at very high pixel resolutions, sped up information delivery, and unprecedented accuracy. These innovations, coupled with the ability of the satellite systems to collect information frequently, have opened up new opportunities for efficient and economical ways to create, maintain, and update land and property databases.

Recent advantages in spectral technology, which enables capturing information in both the visible and invisible parts of the sun’s light, allows automated extraction of various information about man-made surfaces and agricultural crops, at very high accuracies. This spectral advantage of the satellites permits the creation of a consistent process for land and property management systems globally.

Satellite technology has been successfully employed in various developed nations to create and maintain urban parcel databases that are used for land administration. Satellite images can be used to delineate property boundaries, and recent studies have shown the utility of satellite imagery for nationwide agriculture cadaster map development, which can be a key part of securing land rights for people in developing countries.

Another advantage with satellite technologies is the rich history of imagery available, dating back 10-15 years. This time machine of information can provide valuable clues to what has transpired in terms of property boundaries, evidence of illegal squatting, as well as evidence of global human rights violations where buildings of refugees who fled the country are being torn down or bulldozed.

Speed of information delivery has also increased significantly. In the yesteryears, creating a nationwide map would take an army of surveyors and span several decades. Satellite industries today can produce a map of the nation in a few short weeks, which can be used as the foundation for creating land registry systems.  By leveraging the cloud infrastructure, these maps can be delivered to desktops or mobile devices within seconds of a request from the end users. Further, for global conflict situations, these maps and images can provide valuable information, dating back to pre-conflict, as well as post conflict, for accurate record keeping.

Satellite technology and innovations have created new options for modern land and property management, globally, that were not possible a few years ago. In developing countries, this will enable governments to efficiently develop systems to secure and track land rights, and to track and alleviate conflict over land.

Dr. Navulur is Director of Next Generation Products at DigitalGlobe. He is also andjunct professor at Universites of Denver and Colorado.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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