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MAPUTO, 31 January 2022. The Institute for Poverty, Land, and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) continues to disseminate findings from its research on the privatisation of customary land and its implications for women’s land tenure security and livelihoods in Southern Africa.  

Civil society, government representatives, academics and community members gathered in Maputo, Mozambique, on 31 January this year for a key discussion on the formalisation of customary land tenure in the country, in particular for women. 

The national dialogue created an important platform for stakeholders to come together and discuss new developments, challenges and possible solutions for women’s land rights and tenure security. 20 women and nine men from the government, civil society organisations, and traditional leaders attended the roundtable discussion. 

The discussion was informed by the findings of a multi-year project being implemented by PLAAS, and funded by the Austrian Development Agency, on ongoing customary land formalisation processes in four key Southern African countries: Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In Mozambique, the government launched a land administration project, Terra Segura (or “safe land”) in 2015, whose target was to register the land held by 5 million individuals and 4,000 communities within five years. This World Bank-funded Land Administration Project seeks to strengthen land tenure security in selected districts and improve the efficiency and accessibility of land administration services. It also aims to ensure that women can have land titles – known in the country as DUATs (direito de uso e aproveitamento dos terras). 

Therefore, the national dialogue in Maputo was critical in the light of this formalisation programme and given growing investor interest in the country, said Sheila Rafi in her speech during opening remarks at the event. Rafi is the executive director of Livaningo – a historically significant NGO working in the area of environment and communities in Mozambique. She noted that several investors are interested in financing large projects in the country. Still, there are concerns regarding a lack of respect for national policies, community rights, and particularly women’s land rights. Given the potential for land conflict, Rafi said civil society should ask themselves if these investments can contribute to developing rural communities and women’s rights. 

Presenting the research findings, Dr Phillan Zamchiya, senior researcher at PLAAS, said that customary land rights are not well documented, and governments have, for years, argued that this form of access to land is not secure. As a result, many African countries are adopting new policies and laws to formalise tenure, said Zamchiya. The African Union has also supported the construction of policies promoting land registration, emphasising the need for land registration in women’s names.  However, the findings from Mozambique reveal that the primary beneficiaries of the titling programme are men, not women. In particular, married women are disproportionately excluded from land registration. This is attributed to patriarchal cultural practices that are reinforced by registration officials. Other reasons for this exclusion include the high cost of registration and lack of knowledge on the registration process. 

Sheila Raif, executive director of Livaningo, presents at the women’s land dialogue.

Mozambique’s laws provide for the right to title if an individual has used the land for over ten years, said a government representative at the event – Olga Chicuamba, head of the cadastre department, and a representative of the Ministry of Land and Environment. Ms Chicuamba added that the government understood that it must strengthen this provision by titling rights and giving land ownership to vulnerable communities – particularly women and young people. The government’s objective is to improve the land management system and update the cadastre system – the official land register. She said this would enhance the implementation of new investments and allocation of land titles in the customary system.

Olga Chicuamba, head of the cadastre department of the Ministry of Land and Environment of Mozambique, presenting at the dialogue.

Chicuamba further unpacked the Mozambican government’s plans in response to the challenges that have emerged, including working to guarantee land use in good faith and customary practices. She said that the government has so far delimited 106 districts out of the total 157 in Mozambique, thus exceeding the Terra Segura programme goal of delimiting 71 districts. But covering all of Mozambique’s communities and districts and reducing land conflicts remains a challenge, said Chicuamba. These conflicts include intra-family disputes, conflicts with investors and clashes between communities.

The government has been working to reduce these conflicts, ensure transparency in land management and reduce the challenges in registration through customary rights.

Rafi said that Livaningo and PLAAS participated in the previous two years of the revision of the National Land Policy and were able to influence some changes in policies. “We are not satisfied with the entire policy,” she said, “but we managed to include political measures.” These include a new expression in the law guaranteeing access to land for women and young people. “We celebrate it as a small gain,” said Rafi. 

Meanwhile, the voice of community groups was given an important platform at the gathering – and an opportunity to be heard by decision-makers. 

Yolanda Mulhuini, representative of the Group for the Development of Women and Girls, said in her remarks that some women already have access to DUATs and own the title deeds to their land. But challenges remain. Women may have a DUAT but are not the ones who decide how the land should be used. Again, their husbands and uncles dominate discussions and decisions about the land.

Customary land rights also place women in vulnerable positions, as there is evidence that they must appease local leaders to gain access to their DUAT or the right to use and benefit from the land. “We ask ourselves what, is the role of the Ministry of Land and Environment in reducing these cases of violation of women’s human rights?” asked Yolanda. 

The Forum of Rural Women in Mozambique took advantage of the presence of government representatives to raise their concerns. The group noted they have problems with the regularisation of their farm. They have the necessary documentation and begin the process, but it has taken far longer to process than the 15 days stipulated by the law; the community has been battling for years. Meanwhile, as time runs out, their portion of land keeps decreasing as local leaders take their land little by little. 

“Talking in the name of rural women, we ask the Ministry of Land and Environment to help us and improve the territorial ordering,” said one representative. They suggested separating land areas: one part for agricultural use and another for investments and business. “We must learn from experiences of other countries to improve the management of our land and policies,” they added. 

In response to this question raised, Chicuamba said that the Ministry of Environment and Land, together with its strategic partners, is changing and improving territorial planning regulations. They are working to enhance these instruments to facilitate equitable land distribution according to the type of purpose.

Chicuamba also addressed the terms of the right to use and benefit from the land for exploration. She said the government gave foreigners two years of land exploration. After two years of implementation of the exploration plan, the titleholder must apply for the definitive title. Mozambicans, on the other hand, have the right to provisional use of the land for five years for exploration, and after five years of implementation of the exploration plans, must also apply for definitive exploration titles.

But there are many cases in which the two and five years initial periods lapse, and people continue to explore the area without a definitive exploration title. The government accepts this fragility of the law because it requires that several parameters must be followed until the extinction of the property title in favour of this individual after previously authorised exploitation. 

Finally, Rebeca Mabui of the Maputo Provincial Union said that women have the right to participate in the legislative review process. “Even though we are not academic, we ask the government to involve us in the processes of discussion and review of policies in the land sector. I say this looking at the experience of the recent review of the new National Land Policy,  which we felt excluded from the process. As women who work the land and do agriculture, why were we not consulted or heard about our concerns around this new Policy? We have our demands and we need to be part of the process.”

She added that the Terra Segura program was launched in the district of Manhiça, but rural women from the area are not benefiting yet. “We do not have security on our land,” she said. 

Following the dialogue, the following recommendations emerged:
The government should: 

  1. Involve women in spaces of discussion, and listen to women’s voices because they are the ones who primarily work with the land in Mozambique;
  2. Disseminate the Land Law and ensure that women know their rights over the land and that the law is implemented effectively;
  3. Ensure that more women have DUAT under their customary tenure or land occupied in good faith;
  4. Ensure that local structures (such as SDAE, regulations, and chiefs) play their role as managers of the common good and properties. This means community consultations are actually carried out, and that they defend rural communities and move away from being involved in land-grabbing schemes;
  5. Ensure that women have DUAT for their farmlands and not only for residential land as a means to protect their most productive resources from external threats – investors or bourgeoisie;
  6. Improve the land administration services, specifically the timing around the DUAT issuing process. Currently, a woman can spend a year to acquire a DUAT;
  7. Include women significantly in development programmes such as Sustenta and others.

Civil society organisations must:

  1. Forge a global struggle involving other civil society organisations across the world to defend women’s land rights;
  2. Avail themselves to contribute to the upcoming process of land law review in Mozambique;
  3. Engage the government to introduce and implement gender-sensitive policies;
  4. Work with rural communities in such a way that women and community members understand the difference between formal (DUAT) and customary tenure;
  5. Help women join cooperatives for their development and help rural women consolidate their land rights. 

PLAAS, Livaningo, and ADA should:

  1. Document more evidence of women’s rights in other regions (outside of Nhamatanda) to generate more evidence and capture the reality of the larger country; 
  2. Ensure that women have knowledge of the new national land policy through training;
  3. Monitor the new legal framework and advocate for the law and regulations to clear guidelines on how to ensure women’s land rights;
  4. Train women to know their rights and how to defend their rights, as well as the mechanism to acquire DUAT.

Going forward, PLAAS will continue to provide platforms for rural women and policymakers to interface and ensure that women’s needs are heard in their voices. PLAAS is also organising a regional dialogue where these findings will be presented to representatives from the AU and SADC, including national policymakers in the four study countries, to ensure harmonisation of national and regional policies on women’s land rights. Read more about the study on the PLAAS website here.

The dialogue was held by PLAAS in partnership with Livaningo and with financial support from the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC). We would like to thank ADC for their financial support. However, these views are entirely our own.

For interviews and further information about the formalisation of customary land tenure in Mozambique for women, please contact the following:

  • Primary contact: Clemente Ntauazi, Program Manager, Livaningo:
  • Secondary contact: Joana Nhassengo Noyes, Program Manager, Livaningo:

For further information about the PLAAS study, please contact:

  • Dr Phillan Zamchiya, Senior Researcher:

Issued by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies

PLAAS is an independent Policy Research Institute within the Faculty for Economic and Management Sciences at the University of the Western Cape.

About Livaningo
Livaningo is an NGO that has done pioneering work in Mozambique, dealing with issues related to the management of the environment, natural resources and the social well-being of communities. 

About Austrian Development Cooperation
Austrian Development Cooperation supports countries in Africa, Asia, South Eastern and Eastern Europe in their sustainable development. The Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs plans the strategies. The Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation, implements programmes and projects together with public institutions, civil society organisations as well as enterprises.