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The Role of Land Rights Documentation in Promoting Sustainable Land Use Practices

A Zambian woman holds her legal property documents as a result of TGCC project interventions
Photo courtesy of USAID/Zambia

Tetra Tech’s Dr. Matt Sommerville, senior associate with Tetra Tech’s International Development Group, highlights the innovative approaches used for customary land documentation in Zambia and ways the Tenure and Global Climate Change (TGCC) project institutionalized land reform at the local, regional, and national levels.

All opinions expressed in this post are the author’s own. This interview was originally published in LandLinks.

In the interview, Matt recaps his experience as Chief of Party for TGCC and his time in Zambia examining the influence of land rights documentation. Matt discusses how the project successfully championed a land certification process that resulted in the documentation of more than 15,000 parcels of land across five chiefdoms in Zambia’s Eastern Province. In addition, Matt notes lessons learned and the benefits of land documentation to resolve long-standing disputes and build trust and partnerships throughout local communities.

From the LandLinks interview:

USAID began supporting customary land documentation in Zambia to test a simple question: Does the documentation of land rights influence farmers’ decision to adopt sustainable farming practices? The intervention was designed as a randomized control trial impact evaluation and included almost 300 villages that were split between four treatment groups: one that participated in a land-tenure-strengthening intervention, a second that participated in an agroforestry intervention, a third that participated in both land tenure and agroforestry interventions, and a control group.

As TGCC began to work with local chiefs, it became apparent that there was national interest across Zambia—from chiefs, civil society, and the Ministry of Lands—in low-cost, mobile technology-based, robust processes to document the land rights of Zambia’s millions of landholders. With the Urban and Regional Planning Act of 2015 and the Forest Act of 2015, new opportunities emerged for coordination between state and customary leaders on land use planning and resource management. Based on this, USAID began supporting civil society partners to undertake land documentation at scale. In addition, we worked across interest groups to build communication and transparency between chiefs, communities, and government ministries to improve land and resource management.


TGCC’s support to the Petauke and Chipata District Land Alliances, local civil society organizations, has demonstrated the ability of civil society organizations to play an active role in delivering land administration services, acting as an honest broker between chiefs, communities, and the district government. Through this work, the two district land alliances have mapped more than 15,000 land parcels and documented individuals with ownership and other interest rights in that land. Nearly half of the parcels have a female landholder associated with the parcel, representing equal rights of ownership over the land.

Hear more from Matt in his LandLinks inverview about the TGCC project’s innovative approach to land titling in Zambia.

About the author

Headshot of Matt Sommerville

Matt Sommerville

Dr. Matt Sommerville is a senior associate with Tetra Tech’s International Development Group and served as Chief of Party of the USAID-funded TGCC program, which Tetra Tech implemented.

Matt oversaw field-based activities of more than 50 staff in Zambia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Ghana, and Paraguay, as well as analytical products from an additional eight countries, each of which focused on understanding and expanding the role of secure property rights on sustainable livelihoods and management of natural resources. Prior to leading TGCC, Matt was a member of Tetra Tech International Development Services’ Environment and Natural Resources sector and Land Tenure and Property Rights sector managing global contracts on climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as on Liberia’s forest management. He holds a Doctorate in Biology from Imperial College London, a master of science degree from Oxford University, and a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College.

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