Ghana: Clam farmers use GPS to protect property rights (Roots Radio)

| July 2, 2018

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Samuel-Richard Bogobley wears a bright orange life vest and leans over the edge of a fishing canoe. The canoe sits at the mouth of the Volta River, where it meets the Gulf of Guinea.

Mr. Bogobley is looking for a bamboo rod poking above the surface of the water. When he finds it, he holds out a tablet and taps the screen. He is mapping underwater clam plots with GPS. It’s slow work. But it could pave the way for new legal protections for the property rights of communities across Africa.

Mr. Bogobley is a researcher for a Ghanaian non-profit called Hen Mpoano that supports small-scale fishers.

He explains, “Before you can start to recognize a fishery, you need to have a lot of data. These people don’t have any platform to fight for what is theirs.”

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly 80% of the land in Africa is owned through local systems that are usually not recognized by central governments. Without a legal claim to their farms, there is no way for clam farmers to protect themselves from developers who acquire deeds from the government. When there are thefts, farmers cannot go to the police. It is difficult to prove trespassing or demonstrate property rights without legal documents.

Ghanaian farmer Kofi Amatey started his underwater farm, or clam plot, in 2005. He earns less than US$1,000 per year, and says that new developments are pushing him off his land.

Luxury hotels now crowd the riverbanks and force clammers off their farms. Tourists also pose a hazard for the clam farmers. One day, a passing jet skier hit one of Mr. Amatey’s neighbours on the head. He almost drowned.

Mr. Amatey says, “No one has any title to this land, even though we’ve been here for generations.”

Mike Graglia is the director of the Future of Property Rights Initiative with an NGO called New America. He says many indigenous lands lack protection because of a scarcity of data. In many cases, there are no maps.

That’s where the GPS tablets come in.

A growing number of researchers and international aid organizations are creating software that makes it easier for anyone with a tablet or smartphone to accurately map community-held land. This data alone doesn’t offer legal protection, but it’s an essential starting place.

Users drop a GPS pin at each corner of a plot of land, and then the software generates a map.

Indigenous communities in Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, and Burkina Faso are now using GPS mapping software to lobby their governments for increased recognition and protection of their land rights.

Hen Mpoano mapped about 50 clam plots in the Volta River. There are hundreds more to go before the whole area is charted. The organization plans to leave a tablet with the clammers and let them do the mapping themselves.

Mr. Graglia says, “This technology enables people to credibly say, ‘This is mine.’ Then you can have a much more involved conversation about legal rights.”

Mr. Amatey puts it more bluntly: “Having a map can stop people from stealing our land.”

This story was adapted from an article titled, “Why Ghana’s Clam Farmers Are Digging GPS” published by Roots Radio WMOT 89.5. To read the original article, please see: