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Technocrats Use Digital Tech To Cut Off Access To Land Rights

Despite promises to fix unjust land governance, a new study shows that digital technologies can further land grabbing and inequality.

As corporate giants discuss “Tech for Good” at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, recent findings show that *digitalization may increase existing inequalities. A study published by FIAN International ‘Disruption or Déjà Vu? Digitalization, Land and Human Rights’ reveals how digital technologies have become new tools for land grabs and sources of profits. Based on research conducted in Brazil, Indonesia, Georgia, India and Rwanda, the study shows that the use of digital tools in land governance exacerbates existing forms of exclusion.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Corporations, wealthy individuals as well as local elites are using new digital tools to appropriate lands, resulting in the displacement of families and entire communities. A case in point is Mirador State Park in Brazil, where agribusiness companies have illegally encroached into a 700,000-hectare conservation area using digital land registries, dispossessing hundreds of families from lands where they have been living for generations.
  • In the absence of regulation for the public interest and human rights, main beneficiaries of the digitalization of the land sector are digital and agro-food companies to the detriment of disadvantaged groups. Governments increasingly rely on corporate actors to provide the infrastructure for digital land administration, thus undermining public control over essential services and goods.
  • Although land is recognized as a human right and is essential for the lives of rural people, digitalization projects are implemented with no human rights safeguards.
  • Despite its shortcomings for the public interest, international donors are spending millions of dollars to ramp up the use of digital technologies in the land sector around the world. The World Bank alone funds projects with more than USD 1 billion, targeting mainly Sub Saharan Africa as well as South and Southeast Asia.
  •  Initiatives using blockchain technology – the technology underlying cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin – exist in more than 20 countries. Whereas blockchain is being promoted as a cutting-edge technology that is able to solve land management problems, available information indicates that the technology has proven to be ineffective and most activities have stalled.

“What we are seeing is that the current use of digital technologies in the context of land deepens inequalities. This is not ‘Tech for Good’ but for profit,” explains Philip Seufert, one of the authors of the study. “The question is not whether digital technologies are good or bad. But when their application is not embedded in human rights, the outcomes benefit a small group of powerful corporations and individuals. For rural communities this means losing their land and livelihoods,” he adds. Read Full Article >

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