Drones are taking to the skies above Africa to map land ownership

Mapping land boundaries is an important way to boost a country’s economic growth and development. It contributes towards better security of land ownership, allows land owners to get bank loans and helps governments to tax owners correctly.

Unfortunately in most African countries only about 30% of the land boundaries have been mapped. Mapping is done to capture the land’s boundaries with a view to registering ownership. Once mapping is completed, usually using techniques like Global Positioning Systems (GPS), authorities can issue a title deed or certificate of occupancy. This shows who holds rights to which pieces of land.

In Kenya during the 1960s photographs taken from airplanes were used to develop property maps. Kenyans were agitating for their land rights after the colonial British government had been unseated. The title deeds that were handed out as a result of those airplane photographs have formed the basis of Kenya’s property system for decades.

Today, aerial photographs from drones can be used for mapping property boundaries. In most parts of Africa, people demarcate their land using hedges. Ground land surveying techniques can be slow if the aim is to record all the parcels of land within a district or province.

But drones can be used to photograph hedges from the air. The maps developed from those photos are then linked to land ownership records to create formal land registers. This is an important way to record and keep track of land ownership in any given country.

I am involved in a project funded by the European Commission, its4land, that is testing the use of drones – or, as they’re properly called, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – for land mapping and registration. The research is being carried out in three African countries; Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Our hope is that if the research yields positive results, the project can be rolled out elsewhere on the continent. As far as we’re aware, this is among the first internationally to test the use of drones for land registration.

Putting the drones to work

Different types of UAVs can be used for mapping. The two main types are the fixed wing UAVs and the quad-copter UAVs. In general, the fixed wing drones look like a normal airplane with two wings.

We’re testing a fixed wing drone, DT18; it is produced by Delairtech, a French company. This type of drone is suitable for covering long distances – which is necessary when you’re mapping large areas’ property boundaries.

[Delairtech DT18 Fixed Wing Drone.]

Two pilots per country were trained at Delairtech’s offices in Toulouse, France. I’m one of the Kenyan pilots; the other is a Master’s student also from my university. All of the pilots were drawn from the partner universities in Africa. We’ve learned how to control the drone; how to develop a flight path; how to fly safely and how to process the data that’s collected.

Flight paths are set up using waypoints or digital markers. The drone follows these from start to finish. The DT18 can map a distance of up to 20km at a time. It can be redirected or recalled mid-flight if the pilot detects a risk. The drone is fitted with a camera, when takes pictures as directed by the pilot – who is following the flight on a laptop screen from the ground. The pictures are sent back to the laptop and stored on the drone’s own on board memory card.

[Figure 2: Drone flight lines and way points as seen in laptop.]

No flying has happened yet: all the project teams are awaiting permission from the relevant authorities in their countries to send the drones skyward.

We have also brought residents into the project to get their support. In Kenya, our research is being carried out among the Maasai tribe in Kajiado county and among the Luo tribe in Kisumu county. We’ve visited a few sites in these counties and explained our research. These groups will receive feedback throughout the process.

Challenges and opportunities

Drones are not without their problems. They can be dangerous if flown without proper guidelines or permission, or by untrained people. Many countries in Africa have not passed any laws about the use of UAVs. Kenya is ahead in this regard; the civil aviation authority has developed and passed guidelines about drones.

The process of obtaining permission to fly is very rigorous, which is important because drones can be a threat to normal airplanes and could even cause a collision. If this technology is rolled out for land mapping elsewhere in Africa, countries will need to first develop and adopt strict guidelines for flying.

Our hope is that this project will help countries across Africa to increase the number of land parcels that are mapped. It can also clarify the figures for different types of land ownership – private, public or community. This is an important driver for economic growth and development.

Robert Wayumba, Lecturer , Technical University of Kenya

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories


Subscribers only

Pandemic hobbles learners’ futures

South African schools have yet to open for the 2021 academic year and experts are sounding the alarm over lost learning time, especially in the crucial grades one and 12

Q&A Sessions: George Euvrard, the brains behind our cryptic crossword

George Euvrard spoke to Athandiwe Saba about his passion for education, clues on how to solve his crosswords and the importance of celebrating South Africa.

More top stories

Inside George Mukhari hospital’s second wave

The Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism and James Oatway visited George Mukhari academic hospital to document the second-wave realities experienced by doctors and nurses

Power shift at Luthuli House

Ace Magashule’s move to distance himself from Carl Niehaus signals a rebalancing of influence and authority at the top of the ANC

Trump slinks off world stage, leaving others to put out...

What his supporters and assorted right-wingers will do now in a climate that is less friendly to them is anyone’s guess

The US once again has something  Africa wants: competent leaders

Africa must use its best minds to negotiate a mutually beneficial economic relationship

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…