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BenBen Ghana: Empowering citizens by providing land security

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BenBen’s vision is to build the digital infrastructure to enable African economies to fully unlock the socio-economic potential of their land and create ethical land markets

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Founded in 2015, BenBen is a Ghanaian-based land tenure and property tech start-up. BenBen leverages distributed ledger technology (DLT) in building digital platforms for securing land-based assets and financial transactions in African land markets. BenBen’s vision is to build the digital infrastructure to enable African economies to fully unlock the socio-economic potential of their land and create ethical land markets.

The challenge

Emmanuel Noah, CEO at BenBen Ghana explains: “Accounting for up to 20% of the world’s land-based assets, Africa represents an enormous wealth of economic opportunity. However, the presence of a system that offers secure, and trusted access to land markets that stem from these assets continues to elude many African economies. This is largely due to the lack of transparency and access to reliable land market data – a consequence of weak overburdened public sector registries and conflicting land tenure systems. Furthermore, it is estimated that only 20% of property transactions occur in the official domain. As a result, 80% of land market activity remains unknown and uncaptured.”

The solution

BenBen aggregates both formal and informal public transaction data by integrating with multiple property market data sources. The end result is a distributed data layer of verified and rated land data that can be used by various market actors. In a bid to make this data more accessible to users in the market the current version of BenBen’s solution builds on top of this layer to facilitate queries, and registration of collateralised land transactions between various actors in the Ghanaian land market. These actors are primarily financial institutions, property developers and public asset registries. Noah explains: “In 2016, we piloted our first iteration with Barclays Bank Ghana and several other local financial institutions. We continue to scale our services and currently have an MoU with the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association to onboard 154 of their members onto the platform.

“Using blockchain in our solution allows us to ensure transparency and immutability in transactions through the platform. Trust is a key factor in land transactions and, by decentralising data and transactions, each party within the chain is provided equitable access, visibility, and control to data based on preset rules and conditions within the transaction process,” continues Noah. “By automating these procedures, we are able to eliminate redundant workflow procedures and maintain accountability amongst all stakeholders within the transaction chain. The main use cases are in risk analysis based on the collateral provided and end-user loan processes between mortgagors/borrowers and financial institutions.”

Application and implementation

When asked what the implementation process was like, Noah responds: “Our journey to settling on a particular DLT architecture was largely guided by our quest for data integrity, immutability and transaction transparency, whilst maintaining low costs and increasing the speed of transactions. To maintain these design principles, prototyping has begun around two key components of DLTs: blockchain anchoring and Interplanetary File System (IPFS). By hashing transaction data and anchoring onto the Bitcoin blockchain, it is possible to maintain a publicly accessible immutable trail of blocks that act as pointers to various documents, and land transactions initiated through the platform. Furthermore, leveraging IPFS storage capabilities enables us to maintain a secure protocol for file-sharing; storing immutable cadastral data (showing ownership of the land); and preventing duplication of land transaction records and documentation.

Adoption

Noah explains that sensitisation and regulation are the two critical points for adoption. “Interestingly enough, we’ve realised that regulatory feedback in land transactions affects public perception/awareness and vice versa. Regulation is an inevitable and necessary part of ensuring cohesion between specific country land policy and technology frameworks – a requisite for unhampered adoption. Pace of deployment of the solution is key. Many of the expected implementation challenges can be prevented by operating within a regulatory sandbox (test environment) aimed at ensuring compliance and protection amongst stakeholders until national and continental policy is developed. Results from these sandbox tests will then be able to inform policy formulation. Countries such as Kenya and Uganda have also set up dedicated blockchain taskforces to handle policy development. That said, consultations on the use of blockchain for land registration should always be done in collaboration with private-public sector working groups (land, payments, capital markets etc.) to ensure that all potential blockchain use-cases are accounted for in the policy formation process.”

The future

Noah emphasises that the role of technology needs to be highlighted and paid particular attention to as it is becoming a deterrent for setting national policy. “Africa is home to 20% of the world’s total land mass and 60% of the world’s arable land – proportions that keep the continent on the current world economic system’s radar. After building a solid foundation for spatial and other land data that is off the blockchain, the next logical step will be tokenisation (linked cryptocurrency), as well as exploring how artificial intelligence, in combination with Decentralised Autonomous Organisations, can be used in reconciling statutory and customary land tenure systems and bring us closer to creating a fully trusted, secure, transparent, and risk-free African land market ecosystem.”

This article is one of a series of case studies on blockchain applications in agriculture undertaken by Wageningen University and Research on behalf of CTA. See the rest of the collection at https://www.cta.int/en/blockchain.

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