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Land LayBy: Using blockchain to improve landownership

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Since 2014, a pioneering organisation called Land LayBy has been developing land acquisition solutions. After a successful pilot scheme in Kenya, Land LayBy has scaled up their services to Australia, Ghana, London and New York. We spoke with Raymond Kaniu, chief strategist at Land LayBy and main author of their white paper. He explains Land LayBy’s journey and their experiences of working with blockchain technology.

The challenge

For centuries, unequal land rights have facilitated income inequality. Without adequate collateral such as land, it is particularly difficult for smallholder farmers to obtain loans at local banks. In Kenya, land ownership is traditionally recognised by a village elder, explains Raymond Kaniu. “This person has typically been around for a long time and keeps track of who owns what in a notebook or in their mind. Whenever a dispute occurs, individuals seek out this person. Naturally, this is a vulnerable process and unforeseeable circumstances, such as death, illness or war, threaten this information.”

Formally obtaining landowner status can be a tiresome, frustrating and even dangerous process. Some government officials or real estate agencies are known for producing fake title deeds. Corruption is rampant, which affects both local businesses and foreign investments. “We could all be missing out on remittances, which could be invested in land.”

The solution

“Not all land is formally recorded. Our solution is to make landownership more transparent in Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing nations by recording land ownership. Our technology highlights where the large landowners are, which also helps to raise questions about the inequality of landownership. Blockchain was a logical choice for us, assisting us to achieve our vision of making land more transparent and affordable.” The application adheres to local land commission procedures and details the transaction history of the land.

The application

Land LayBy uses an Ethereum based shared ledger to keep records of land transactions. These records can never be altered, corrupted, forged or erroneously replicated. “We take legally verified land, with traceable histories, and place this information on the application. Users can then access the platform and add extra information about the land.” Land LayBy will verify this information and announce the land as ‘LLL certified’ (Land LayBy Listed).

“A person looking to buy land can log-in to interact with the current owner. For example, they can ask to purchase the land or rent it to grow crops on.” Details about a user can be shared but specific permission settings can be changed by the account holder.

Implementation

“We have a tech partnership with Winjit in India. They understand the challenges related to developing nations. In Kenya, we are currently working with land owners but we are also trying to reaching out to the Ministry of Land, ICT organisations, farmers’ organisations and the Kenyan government’s blockchain taskforce. We can’t move forward without building alliances.”

Raymond Kaniu also explained some of the challenges that Land LayBy has faced. “Trust was a main issue. People are less willing to support entrepreneurs from Kenya, compared to western entrepreneurs. The second challenge concerns working with governmental organisations which burden us with extensive audits. Thirdly, obtaining investors is challenging.” However, Land LayBy has strategies in place to address these challenges. “Who wouldn’t want to be transparent with their land? Most of the land wealth is within our hands but we need to find ways to formalise proceedings and make land ownership more transparent.”

“We are a startup in the early stages of development and we are trying to build, learn and interact with other stakeholders. It is a challenge but we knew it would be.”

A word of advice

“It is easy to give in to negative reports but people are starting to see the benefits of our application. If you want incorruptible technology, look no further than Land LayBy.”

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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