As opposed to traditional tabular databases, the Land Observatory can be used to perform in-depth contextual analysis of the areas in which the land deals are taking place, and therefore provide a better insight on the socioeconomic and environmental conditions of places and the characteristics of the affected population.
In the case of the well-known Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone granted for 99 years to the Chinese company Kings Roman, a number of Land Observatory users came together to enter, compare and crosscheck information. Facing some challenges to access certain data, they showed a level creativity that would probably not have happened as part a government-led data collection campaign.
Bottom-up monitoring of rubber plantations in Phine District
In Phine District, Savannakhet Province, the Vietnamese state-owned group Quasa Gueruco was granted 10'000 hectares for rubber plantations. In Nakanong village, villagers and officials started complaining when they saw that the company was clearing lands beyond the granted area. Supported by an international NGO, the villagers used satellite images overlaid to the districts land allocation maps to demonstrate the illegal expansion of the concession.
A locally owned tool to engage actors in situ
The Land Observatory is a sister project to the Land Matrix, a global and independent land monitoring initiative that promotes transparency and accountability in decisions over land and investments. As a local extension of the system, the Land Observatory aims at providing a greater insight on land related deals and processes at the national and subnational level, by further engaging stakeholders in situ, and linking to relevant local networks and initiatives. The Land Observatory is not just a technical solution; it is a process, though which increased coordination and empowerment is made possible by the activity of people on the ground, and their respective contributions to the crowd sourcing web-portal.
All in one place: a geocoded data repository on land deals
When available, information on specific land deal cases is often fragmented and hard to find. Building on a flexible database structure, the Land Observatory offers the possibility to link all types of documents (reports, pictures, web links, GIS files, etc.) to their geographic location on the dynamic map, and allows any user to contribute indefinitely by adding and commenting information.
In cases such as coffee plantations granted to the Singapore based food company Golden Triangle casino paradise in Paksong District or the Outspan leased to the Chinese company Kings Roman, users of the Land Observatory came together to populate the database with dozens of documents including academic papers, Youtube videos, media articles, cross comments observations from the field and official statements by the company. Building on a joint effort by a diversity of users with various expertise and access to information, the crowd sourcing process generated a unique library on these deals, which showcases the different perspectives and claims of stakeholders involved, and can be analyzed, complemented or cross-checked by virtually anybody who has interest in the topic.