Lessons for designing fit-for-purpose land administration and land management activities, where the stated purposes are poverty alleviation, food security, and good governance, are provided. Contemporary developments from urban and rural Ethiopia provide the empirical basis: data is synthesised from fieldwork and other research activities undertaken between 2011 and 2013. With its large population and important geopolitical location, Ethiopia will continue to act as a yardstick for measuring the success of the global development agenda, particularly in Eastern Africa. Observations from training sessions conducted with cadastral and urban planning experts in Addis Ababa reveal challenges and opportunities regarding capacity development for urban land administration, urban land markets, and state land management. From the city of Bahir Dar, an alternative perspective of urban land administration is provided: the presented results shed light on the varying quality of cadastral development, but also the positive and negative impacts of cadastral implementation. Meanwhile, results from Dilla Town reveal the opportunity to link cadastral development to other infrastructure development activities (e.g. road construction and upgrade). The case also reveals the ongoing tension between ensuring adequate compensation payments relating to land acquisition, whilst also delivering a broader community benefit. Outputs from exploratory design work on the potential for land consolidation in the Amhara region are also articulated. The status of cadastral development in rural areas is revealed, along with future challenges for using cadastral data in land consolidation activities. Overall, the synthesised studies expose how fit-for-purpose ideologies are increasingly informing Ethiopian cadastral design, and under what conditions these designs can support poverty alleviation, food security, and good governance.