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New database wrangles data on land rights projects around the globe

  • The database was created by the Land Portal Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in the Netherlands.
  • Currently, the database includes hundreds of land tenure projects from the Global Map of Donors and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
  • Users are also able to add projects to the database, allowing people working on land and property rights projects to share information.

The Land Portal Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in the Netherlands, recently released what it’s calling “the largest global database of land and property rights projects.”

In around a decade of existence, the Land Portal Foundation has worked to pull together the often disparate information on these projects from its partners around the world so that researchers, donors and campaigners have a better idea of how these projects are transpiring, said Laura Meggiolaro, the organization’s team leader.

But too often, they found, information on one project was siloed from those working on another project, even as the Land Portal team gathered the details of hundreds of different projects. Users, Meggiolaro said, were eager “to know who is doing what where.”

Women from the Anangu Quichua community performing a traditional song and dance in Yasuni National Park in the Ecuadoran Amazon. Image by Jeremy Hance and Tiffany Roufs/Mongabay.

With an eye toward that goal, the Land Portal launched this new database in March 2020, featuring more than 900 projects from the Global Map of Donors, a network of organizations working on land tenure projects, and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s list of projects on land tenure.

Those resources are a start, Meggiolaro said, but “We aim to ingest many more projects.” In short, she added, they want to “democratize” land information.

“We’re working with people that are defending land rights. They are struggling for or defending the most marginalized, so they need more information,” she said. “They need data for campaigning. They need data to design interventions. That’s how we hope the Land Portal will be useful.”

Visitors to the Land Portal site can see the details of a land or property rights project and the pertinent information: when and where it’s taking (or took) place and who provided the financing.

An Orang Rimba shelter in Indonesia. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

In addition to rights activists, donors can use the data to identify potential collaborating organizations or to ensure they’re not overlapping with other similar projects in a given area, said Neil Sorensen, communications specialist with Land Portal.

“The more people using our information, the more successful we are,” Meggiolaro said.

But accessing that information is only part of the equation. The team is eager to have users add data on the projects, especially in countries where people struggle to hold on to the land on which they often depend.

An indigenous Tikuna man paddling a dugout canoe on a tributary of the Amazon. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

Stacey Zammit, communications officer with the Land Portal, said the organization has changed its approach in bringing about discussions around land and property rights to one that’s more inclusive — what it calls “passing the microphone.”

“Having someone who really understands the dynamics, including the data and information ecosystem, how it works now, who are the players … it’s very important,” Meggiolaro said. “We prefer to give the voice to the real experts who are our partners in the south.”

Banner image of an Arhauco indigenous leader in Colombia by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay. 

John Cannon is a staff features writer with Mongabay. Find him on Twitter: @johnccannon

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the requirements for viewing data in the Land Portal database. Visitors do not need an account to access the information.

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