This section describes Meridia’s innovative approaches to register land. Meridia’s initiatives in land tenure documentation take the forms of product and institutional innovations, by which Meridia seeks to meet the needs of landholders and at the same time reasonably negotiate institutional challenges. To achieve the product and institutional innovation, Meridia, among other things, makes use of technological solutions which are embedded in the innovations. Following the first two stages of analysis described above, Section 4.1
below describes the documentation packages designed by Meridia to meet the needs of different categories of landholders and how each requires different processes of registration. Then, Section 4.2
. describes the encounters between the existing institutions and the changes sought by Meridia.
4.1. Meridia’s General Motivations and Approach
Under its previous name Landmapp, Meridia followed up on land tenure documentation activities by Thomson Reuters in Ghana, a country with an active NGO and consultancy scene and ongoing national and internationally led initiatives to develop land tenure documentation processes. Meridia initially focused on farmers’ land tenure security, especially of small holder and cocoa farmers; as the founders of Meridia see farmers as stewards of the environment. The organization later expanded its documentation activities to urban areas. Developing a business model is ongoing, because the process of documentation is influenced by the fees that need to be paid to customary and statutory authorities for signatures and approvals. These fees are not standardized and can vary by region or time. The costs for the training of local mappers and quality checks of the produced data also vary. Besides these variances, the basic premise for the long-term is to be financially self-sustaining and eventually profit-making through the sale of land tenure documentation services to land holders. A customer base is developed step by step following demand pulls. In order to identify this demand and enroll communities into the documentation endeavor, Meridia puts a lot of effort into understanding the socio-economic and political conditions across different regions in Ghana and the local team working on implementation consists of Ghanaian nationals. During initial visits, farmers’ willingness to pay for land tenure documents is explored and sometimes down payments are made to indicate commitment to the process. In some cases, several visits are made to communities to gain trust; and before the actual documentation process starts, training and sensitization programs are conducted. In some cases customary authorities, for instances, chiefs have requested for the documentation of specific areas.
4.2. Product Innovation by Meridia: Adjusting the Land Registration Process to Market Demands
Land registration in Ghana typically results in the registration of leaseholds. With this unified form of registration, all categories of landholders, irrespective of location and land use, are required to follow the same process of registration in order to have their holdings recorded. To provide more context-oriented land tenure documentation, Meridia designed a continuum of so-called “documentation packages” through a combination of technological and institutional innovations. These different products provide landholders with the opportunity to engage in different forms of registration ranging from the acknowledgement of customary arrangements to the full registration of a leasehold. Meridia’s documentation packages are, in the first instance, designed around different types of land uses. The packages are the FarmSeal, FarmSeal+, HomeSeal, and OrgSeal. The FarmSeal and the FarmSeal+ are more tailored for rural areas where agriculture is the predominant land use with low levels of income among peasant farmers. Given the relatively low costs involved in documenting FarmSeal and FarmSeal+, more peasant farmers are able to have their land rights recorded in some way with possibilities of scaling up to a full leasehold title at a later time. The HomeSeal and the OrgSeal are designed for urban areas which are more cosmopolitan and with relatively higher property values. In these contexts, a higher level of legitimation is often required to validate ownership and transfer, which calls for additional steps at the Lands Commission for official registration. Although in some instances the packages can be adapted according to particular community’s or landholders’ needs across the urban/rural differentiation, we describe the operations of Meridia in the following first for rural, then for urban areas.
4.2.1. Meridia’s Operation in Rural Areas: The Preparation of FarmSeal and FarmSeal+
The steps of Meridia’s land tenure documentation process begins with the identification of suitable areas for tenure documentation by Meridia, where Meridia tries to follow demand pulls rather than supply push. Their concept of tenure documentation was first proven in areas with at least some commercial farming, because these farmers can pay for the services. After identifying areas to document, Meridia conducts so called “sensitization activities” with the communities. Meridia informs the community about a date and time to meet for sensitization activities. The sensitization team goes to the community for at least one week to educate the community about the importance of tenure documentation before the actual mapping of land boundaries and rights takes place. After the sensitization is conducted, Meridia interviewers go to farmers’ houses to interview them as well as the neighbors to ascertain the oral history of their lands. The initial interview is held with the holder of the land and the grantor and sometimes people from the community. The interviewers obtain some background information concerning how the farmer acquired the land, witnesses that were present during the time of acquisition of the land, and the number of years the farmer had to stay on the land. Later the Meridia mappers also ask the farmers the same questions asked by Meridia interviewers as a means of cross-validation of the information. After the ascertainment of the oral history of the land, the Meridia mappers go to the field with their equipment to carry out the survey. During the survey, the farmers together with a neighbor lead the whole process of defining the boundaries of the farm. They walk around the boundary while the mapper picks the boundary points with GPS. The neighbors are involved in the survey to testify that boundaries, which have been surveyed, are correct and belong to the said owner. The farmers also help in putting the PVC plastic pipes at the place where the coordinates were picked, and concrete is poured into the hole of the PVC pipes to serve as a monument. The farmers also help in the clearing of the boundaries of the farmlands to make it easier for movement during mapping. After the mappers have conducted their mapping, they upload the data into the Meridia integrated end-to-end information system (database linked to mobile application). The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) team in Accra then have access to the data to do computations as well as to eliminate errors and anomalies from the gathered data to produce a farm plan. After the computation is done, the GIS team submits the farm plan and the data to the licensed surveyor for verification and validation. The validated farm plan and deed document are prepared and endorsed by a solicitor and subsequently signed by the traditional authorities (paramount chiefs) and the landholder which are then endorsed by the commissioner of oath at the high court. This marks the end of the documentation for a FarmSeal. For FarmSeal+, the certified farm plan is taken further and submitted to the Regional Lands Surveyor of the Lands Commission for approval. Finally, Meridia sets a date to go to the community to deliver the signed documents. The processes for preparing FarmSeal and FarmSeal+ are shown in Figure 2
The process description above shows that the preparation of the FarmSeal and the FarmSeal+ involves both customary and statutory actors. The chiefs and the commissioner of oath endorse the documents to give it legal backing as well as satisfying land registration requirements set forth by the Lands Commission. The FarmSeal+ constitutes a move into the direction of stronger formal recognition beyond the customary institutional realm in that it also involves approval by the Regional Land Surveyor and certification by the licensed land surveyor as a statutory requirement for further registration with the Lands Commission.
4.2.2. Meridia’s Operation in Urban Areas: The Preparation of HomeSeal and OrgSeal
For urban areas, two other documentation packages were designed by Meridia, namely the HomeSeal and the OrgSeal. The HomeSeal itself consists of residential and commercial seals. It is designed to meet the specific conditions of urban areas. It provides home owners and commercial property owners with a certified and approved site plan with a fully signed deed document with an option to continue forward to deed or title registration at the Lands Commission, depending on the client’s request. The OrgSeal is similar in this respect, because it may lead to full title registration upon the client’s request. While the HomeSeal is for holders of individual land parcels, the OrgSeal is designed for organizations that have large parcels of land and buildings. With the OrgSeal, all parcels and buildings belonging to one organization across the country are mapped and included in an online inventory and processed for title registration.
The documentation process for both the HomeSeal and OrgSeal begins with areas which have already been well planned by the Town and Country Planning Department, the agency responsible for spatial planning. The next step after the preparation of planning schemes is the mobilization and sensitization of potential customers as well as the ascertainment of the oral history of the land in the same manner as described for the FarmSeal and FarmSeal+. After the ascertainment of the oral history of the land, the licensed surveyor applies to the Client Service Access Unit (CSAU) of the Lands Commission for the issuance of regional numbers. These numbers are necessary to identify the survey work to be carried out in that year and area.They are prerequisites needed by surveyors before going to the field. The regional numbers are generated and given to the licensed Surveyor subject to the payment of a fee. After obtaining the regional numbers from the CSAU and related datasets by the licensed surveyor, Meridia’s mappers go to the ground to carry out the survey work according to the technical instructions of the surveyors and other relevant laws of the country. The regional numbers are planted on the ground to be able to generate monument numbers for each corner. There are different types of monuments: type A, B, or C, depending on the kind of survey to be conducted. The Meridia mappers usually carry out the mapping using emlid reach GPS devices together with the landowners and neighbors, who help to define the boundaries of the land. After the survey work, the mappers send the data through the Meridia end-to-end integrated information system (database linked to mobile application), which are processed and certified by the licensed surveyor. After the certification of the documents by the licensed surveyor, the documents are submitted to the CSAU of the Lands Commission by the licensed surveyor. The submitted file contains the following: field report or history of the survey, letter of submission, Ex Data (the control points the Licensed Surveyors took from survey and mapping Division), raw field data (rinex format), and point list. The submitted file should also contain the beacon index, computation of bearing and distance, plan data, area computation, a diagram of the survey, total survey record on CD, eight copies of the certified plan and a copy of Land Registration Division’s (LRD) request letter. The CSAU verifies the documents against a checklist and either approves or rejects it. After the examination of the content of the file submitted to CSAU, if everything is right, then the file is submitted to the examination section within the survey and Mapping Division of the Lands Commission. The examination section carries out data processing and quality control checks. After the examination of the plan and the documents by the examination section, and given that everything is in good order, the examiner appends his signature and sends the plan for cartographic checks by a department within the Survey and Mapping Division. When they are satisfied with the cartographic aspect of the plan, then the Regional Land Surveyor will append his signature. The plan then comes back to the examination section, where a barcode is placed at the back of the plan indicating that it has been approved. After the plan has been approved, a Solicitor from Meridia prepares a deed document and endorses it. The deed document is then signed by the traditional authorities (paramount chiefs) and the landholder and is also endorsed by the court (commissioner of oath) at the high court. The deed document is submitted to the CSAU, where it is checked for completeness and is sent to the various divisions of the Lands Commission at different stages of processing. Finally, the fully registered deed or title is sent to the CSAU where they are delivered to Meridia who then delivers them to the clients (landholders). These processes are summarized in the flowchart of Figure 3
and the accompanying narrative above demonstrate that the documentation for HomeSeal and OrgSeal in urban areas involves more statutory actors compared to the preparation of FarmSeal and FarmSeal+ in rural areas. This is partially due to the complexities of land tenure being higher in urban areas, a complexity associated with more land contestations, higher levels of land encroachment, development rates and associated land values, as indicated by Meridia interviewees. The documentation process in the urban areas is therefore relatively more cumbersome, because one needs to contact many stakeholders at higher levels of the administrative hierarchy compared to documentation in rural areas. In addition, statutory actors require stronger adherence to administrative procedures and requirements for surveying and registration work, partially because in urban areas more is at stake with land values and development rates being high and the potential of conflict accordingly higher than in predominantly rural areas with less development and lower land values. Maintaining relationships with these numerous statutory actors in urban areas is time-consuming and financially costly.
In sum, the packages for tenure documentation in rural and urban areas differ in terms of the types of tenure being documented, the labor, costs, type of land holders, and institutional actors involved, but also in terms of aims of documentation and the degree to which a document is recognized by customary only or by both customary and statutory actors. The latter is in turn related to the necessities of adhering to existing surveying standards and requirements that are relatively higher in urban areas for HomeSeal and OrgSeal. The success in the development of these documentation packages as products partly draws from Meridia’s innovation (i.e. the use of mobile mappers with an end-to-end integrated information system and use of PVC pipes as monuments). However, in the processes of preparing these various documentation packages, Meridia necessarily encounters existing institutional arrangements (which either aid or impede documentation), and in so doing, Meridia devises institutional innovation to negotiate the challenges of existing institutions. In the next section we discuss these encounters and the institutional innovations devised by Meridia.
4.3. Encounters Between Meridia’s Interventions and Existing Institutions
Meridia’s innovative intervention in the land registration processes in Ghana diversifies the types of documentation according to different land uses, tenure situations, and landholders’ demands and abilities. In so doing, Meridia weaves its initiative through existing statutory and customary institutional arrangements. Meridia develops its documentation processes by exploring the opportunities presented by the existing institutional framework. Such opportunities are afforded specifically by the flexibility of the customary institutions, but also some flexibility on part of statutory institutions, for instance, allowing the mobile mappers for cadastral data collection instead of licensed surveyors and the possibility to use PVC pipes as monuments instead of concrete monuments. At the same time, as Meridia develops its documentation processes, it has to accept and work with some challenges posed by existing institutional arrangements that cannot be changed or easily navigated through an innovative intervention. We identified three forms that the encounters between Meridia and the existing institutions take, namely, encounters with statutory institutional procedures and requirements, encounters with customary institutional practices and requirements, and encounters with the Dynamics of Land and Livelihoods. Each set of encounters is discussed in the following sections.
4.3.1. Encounters with Statutory Institutional Procedures and Requirements
From the point of view of the end product of registration, the Ghana Lands Commission registers only leaseholds in the study areas. By having only leaseholds as a product, landholders have to go through the entire process of a leasehold registration to have their land rights documented. However, Meridia uses a continuum of land rights recognition and recording, whereby different product packages are designed at intermediate stages of land rights recording. This variety of packages which include FarmSeal, FarmSeal+, HomeSeal, and OrgSeal are not only easily accessible to a wide range of landholders but are also scalable to full registration. Meridia’s packages are designed to provide flexibility but also to meet the statutory and administrative requirements of registration.
For a land tenure document to achieve full statutory recognition by the Lands Commission, its preparation requires following rather rigid guidelines for the survey work. Especially problematic is the requirement to construct standard monuments for parcel demarcation. According to the technical instructions for the surveyors, these should consist of solid cement concrete 15 cm above ground and with a 30 cm concrete foundation in the ground. The requirement would be impossible to adhere to for Meridia in many rural areas, because some farms have about 70 to 80 boundary points; and monuments are bulky and excruciating to carry. The monuments are also very expensive and add to the cost of surveying and hence making it impossible for farmers to afford documentation. Meridia came up with an improvised solution to overcome this challenge. Meridia, with agreement from the western Regional Lands Commission, uses smaller and lighter PVC pipes for the construction of the monuments for the FarmSeal and FarmSeal+. The PVC pipes are planted into the ground and concrete is poured into the holes of the pipe, and the pillar numbers and other details are inscribed on them. On the other hand, some requirements Meridia cannot circumvent or adjust. For instance, connected to the monuments is the rigid observation time for mapping. The Lands commission has specific required observation times for different land uses. For example, after getting a vantage point to pick the coordinates of a boundary, one still has to wait for three minutes for farmlands and 15 minutes for residential properties. According to Meridia mappers, “even if you get a good reception, unless the observation time is exhausted, you cannot take a point.’’ Hence, if Meridia has procured a new machine which can pick a point in five seconds, they still cannot use it. Survey instruments are calibrated according to the Lands Commission requirements and for this challenge, Meridia has no solution but has to accept and adapt to the existing situation.
A further challenge encountered by Meridia is the high cost of preparing cadastral plans by surveyors. Meridia improvised ways of cutting down the cost associated with hiring the services of a licensed surveyor by engaging mobile mappers. By law, licensed surveyors and official surveyors are mandated to carry out land surveys in Ghana. Based on their professional training, the fees they charge are very high ($300 per an acre of land) which is beyond the reach of local farmers. To hire a surveyor to carry out survey work, the farmers have to go to the city to look for the surveyor and pay them a daily rate to go to the field to do the work. From the point of hiring a surveyor to the collection of certified survey plan, the farmers incur substantial costs. Meridia is able to cut down the cost of hiring a surveyor drastically by engaging mobile mappers and interviewers. Mobile mappers are part of the Meridia field staff, who are well trained in the use of android tablets with the map of the area for the purposes of mapping the land boundaries. They go to the field to capture the information and then have it cross-verified by the licensed surveyors stationed in the city through Meridia’s end-to-end integrated information system (database linked with the mobile application). The cost of Meridia FarmSeal and FarmSeal+ package (site plan and indenture) is about one hundred dollars ($100) for a parcel size of five acres. The Cost of HomeSeal and OrgSeal is about two hundred dollars ($200), which includes a site plan and an indenture.
4.3.2. Encounters with Customary Institutional Practices and Requirements
The land registration processes in Ghana cut across both statutory and customary actors. The processes, although with country-wide and regional variations, involves a series of steps of approvals, certifications, and associated signatures on various documents. When deed documents are prepared, they need to be signed by the grantor chief, for instance. In order to lower the costs of registration, Meridia tries to go for documentation at a scale that is at relatively high volumes of documents. The high volumes of the documents submitted to the chiefs coupled with the numerous customary responsibilities make it extremely difficult for the chiefs to sign the deed documents quickly, which leads to reluctance on part of the chiefs to participate in the process. Here, Meridia came up with a technical solution. Meridia collects the chiefs’ signatures and prints them on the documents. The chief’s assistant then checks to confirm whether the chief’s signature is well embossed. This takes Meridia shorter time to have their documents signed and it saves the chiefs some time.
A challenge emerging from the hybridity of land governance institutions in Ghana (customary and statutory) is the non-recording of some customary land rights such as the customary freehold interest by the Lands Commission in the Western Region due to ambiguity of land laws and related multiple interpretations. The indigenous people in Wassa Akropong are believed to hold customary freehold interest from time immemorial and would not like to sacrifice that interest for a lease, since Meridia land tenure documentation packages are only based on leases. In this case, Meridia has to adjust and adapt to the existing situation by providing customary documentation packages.
4.3.3. Encounters with the Dynamics of Land and Livelihoods
In developing innovative processes to register land rights, Meridia also needs to engage with and adjust to the dynamics outside of statutory and customary land governance institutions per se. These dynamics include the seasonal variations associated with agricultural livelihoods, for instance income fluctuations.
The Wassa Akropong traditional area is a cocoa growing zone where the income of the people varies by season. The main harvesting period for cocoa in Ghana is from October to February and from May to August for the light crop. During the main harvesting period, the farmers have the money to pay for the tenure documentation fees. During the light cropping, the farmers do not have enough money to pay Meridia for their services. Therefore, Meridia collects part payment from those farmers, who cannot afford payment during low income periods. These farmers are then obliged to pay the money during the major cocoa harvesting periods.
But also the distribution of land rights is more dynamic than GPS-based survey logic may anticipate, as farming practices and related use rights vary with natural circumstances and the amount of labor put into clearing and preparing fields. When engaging in mapping activities, it turns out that some of the farmers had reported a different size and boundary during the interviews than what was found later during mapping work. There could be different reasons for these discrepancies. For example, farmers may not know the sizes and boundaries of their lands in acreages. Until recently, the acquisition of land by indigenes was based on one’s ability to farm the land. In other words, how much land one farmed and put to productive uses came to constitute one’s land size and boundaries. It is the work that makes the boundaries, not the boundaries that allow (give the “right” to) a certain kind of work. Whatever the reasons may be for the mismatch between land sizes as reported during the interviews and the boundaries and sizes measured during the mapping work, the fees to be paid for documentation are charged based on the information provided earlier by the farmer during interview. These discrepancies can therefore lead to substantial problems and delays in the process of documentation. Hence, the way Meridia measures and delineates land using GPS may differ from the logic by which the farmers themselves delineate and measure land. However, there is also a close connection between measurement, reporting of land size, and the negotiations over documentation fees that create a relatively dynamic environment, in which documentation takes place, even in regions that are not characterized by longer term land conflicts or illegal resources extraction activities, which constitute another layer of complex dynamics to land tenure registration.