T3 Series: Blockchain Use Case in Land & Water Rights

At a very basic level, blockchains are shared databases that store and
verify information in a cryptographically secure way. It is monitored
and organized by a peer-to-peer blockchain network, which also serves
as a secure ledger of transactions, e.g., buying, selling, and transferring.
One can think of a blockchain as a Google spreadsheet, except that
instead of being hosted on Google’s servers, blockchains are
maintained by a network of computers all over the world. These
computers (sometimes called miners or validators) are responsible for
storing their own copies of the database, adding and verifying new
entries, and securing the database against hackers.
A cryptocurrency is an encrypted data string that denotes a unit of
currency.

Crypto, as we know it today, has a significant environmental impact,
but it’s hard to measure exactly how significant. Many frequently cited
statistics come from industry groups, and it’s hard to find trustworthy,
independent data and analysis.

In these essays, Varsha Appaji, a 2021 SMU graduate, and a Research
Associate at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco -and a former
student Research Analyst in the Hunt Institute- looks at the impact of
blockchain technology and its impact on major issues facing society
for better and for worse.

. . .

LAND RIGHTS

Land registry and management are critical tools for proving land ownership and protecting private property and land assets, which are arguably intrinsic to a functioning (and prospering) market economy. Below are a few ways that blockchain applications could be used to make the system more frictionless:

  • Blockchain land registry programs would provide traceable and immutable land right protections
  • Blockchain could make property ownership and record-keeping much easier and cheaper to maintain or update, so that the process of changing ownership would be much more efficient
  • Digitized records would be transparent, accessible, indestructible, cost-effective, and eliminate bureaucratic management for a more easily traceable and searchable system
  • Anti-corruption, especially for developing countries
  • A way for all affected parties to monitor, update, and validate property ownership records
  • Smart contracts could enable both buyers and sellers to automatically sign off on ownership once the transaction reaches its final approval stage. This may help to resolve land disputes that arise from undocumented or unregistered land

WATER RIGHTS

Water management is an urgent issue due to a number of factors, including the predicted global water crisis and present water scarcity on every continent, from Flint, Michigan, to Mali. Blockchain could revolutionize water management through:

  • Decentralized water reuse systems
  • Management and trade of water resources
  • Making water resource planning traceable, like local electricity management
  • Accessible, reliable real-time analytics from the massive data management capabilities of blockchain
  • Transparency and cost-effectiveness in cross-organization communication

Real World Applications: 

  • Bitfury’s Exonum-based land registry demo shows how blockchain technology can be used for land titling services by improving their security and usability. It also shows how to acquire sample properties, transfer properties, and explore the transaction history of any property or user. Learn more about Exonum.
  • MediciLand supports land governance, titling, and administration by leveraging blockchain
  • ​Colorado is already testing blockchain for water management
  • WaterChain is a decentralized water funding platform aimed at improving water quality around the world

POTENTIAL CONS

  • Security of the blockchain remains an issue, as well as the scalability of a project when tied to governments for land and water management
  • ​Additionally, the energy consumption of blockchain applications and their carbon footprint may not be a sustainable way to address these concerns

For a video overview of blockchain, watch “Blockchain Applications for Social Impact” here.

Written by Varsha Appaji ’21

Edited by Chris Kelley

To read more about the Hunt Institute’s work to develop future-focused solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems, please click here. For the latest news on the Hunt Institute, follow our social media accounts on LinkedIn. We invite you to listen to our Podcast called Sages & Seekers. If you are considering engaging with the Institute, you can donate, or sign-up for our newsletter by emailing huntinstitute@smu.edu.

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