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By Clemente Ntauazi, Joana Noyes, Refiloe Joala

A new land policy in the works

On 16 July 2020, the President of the Republic of Mozambique, Filipe Jacinto Nyusi launched the public hearing phase of the National Land Policy Review, which will culminate in the amendment of the 1997 Land Law (Law no.19/97), and other laws and regulations that govern land management in the country.  The National Land Policy Review process  is being undertaken by the National Land Policy Review Commission or Comissão de Revisão da Politica Nacional de Terras (hereinafter referred to as the Commission). While Mozambique has been widely praised for  having a “progressive” land tenure framework, the National Land Policy Review has been initiated to address what has been described as  rigid policies and laws that have hindered land-based investments, particularly agro-investment and make land more transactable. Scholar-activist, Boaventura Monjane, who is a postdoctoral candidate at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, argues that the National Land Policy Review  signals a significant shift in Mozambique’s land governance towards a more market-oriented policy framework that will allow for the transfer of land use rights, known by the acronym, DUATs (Direito do Uso e Aproveitamento da Terra or Land Use and Benefit Right).¹ In practice, “they want to reduce the power of communities over land and give the state ultimate powers to decide what happens with the land,  communities will no longer have the capacity to exercise agency.”  At present, Mozambique’s Land Law empowers local  people  to  participate in the management of land and other natural resources,  including  the  allocation  of  rights  to  investors,  and  in   conflict resolution. Private investors seeking new DUATs must consult local communities first and local people can choose to say no to land concessions and  keep their rights, or agree to terms with investors.  

The missing voices in an increasingly polarised political context 

Fierce political debates about the underlying drivers, potential outcomes, and directions of policy change of the National Land Policy have raised significant concerns, highlighting divergent views  about the economic development vision for the country across different sections of society.. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the terms of reference for the Commission have not been published and made available to the public. Therefore it remains unclear what aspects of the land policy are likely to change and how.  On one side of the debate, sceptics of the policy review process are questioning if the Land Law needs to be amended at all, or if the current failures and challenges could be addressed through better enforcement of the existing Land Law and implementation of policy in order to strengthen and protect people’s individual and community land rights. On the other side of the debate, supporters of the National Land Policy Review, who include private sector actors, some academics and civil society organisations argue that the current Land Law and policy framework  is opaque and deters investors. Missing from these debates is the perspective of ordinary Mozambicans, especially rural people, whose lives stand to be the most directly affected by any changes in the land policy and land law amendments. 

Rural women say their piece 

Given the state’s lack of engagement with rural communities, a coalition of civil society organisations—the Mozambican Forum for Rural Women (FOMMUR), Livaningo, Forum Mulher, WiLSA, Observatorio do Meio Rural and Hikone—initiated a series of meetings with rural women in particular, to raise awareness about the National Land Policy Review and gather their perspectives on process, their concerns, and understandings as to what this policy review means for them and the policy changes they would like to see get adopted in the policy review process. 

The first meeting took place on 10 September 2020 in Maputo and brought together about 50 women. Among them were 10 representatives from the Forum Mulher (a national organisation which advocates for women’s rights based in Maputo), 30 farmers from Maputo city, Maputo and Gaza provinces from the Rural Women’s Microfinance Fund (FOMMUR) and 10 representatives from other civil society organisations. In addition to raising awareness and collecting perspectives, the meeting aimed to define a rural women’s political position on the current National Land Policy Review process as well as define the agenda for the World Rural Women’s Day celebration, which will be hosted by FOMMUR on 15 October 2020 in Maputo province. The event will provide a platform for FOMMUR members to engage with government officials on the review processes underway and other priority issues for rural women.  A second meeting took place on 16 September 2020 in Ribaue, Nampula province where 30 women from different rural communities of Nampula province gathered in a meeting organised by FOMMUR and Livaningo.

A key concern that was raised in the two meetings is the fact that the National Land Policy Review is taking place in the context of increased land demand by individuals and private companies and marked a rise in land concessions. Yet, the government is promoting individual land titling as a mechanism for securing land rights and curbing resource conflicts. 

Tereza Mboa, a small-scale farmer from Maputo province argued, “the law does not need to be reformed, but enforced. Many problems that we are facing now have to do with low enforcement of the law”. Amelia Chilaúle, another small-scale farmer from the same province, argued that increasing urbanisation has led to the progressive occupation of areas formerly used for agricultural production.”

According to the Government of Mozambique, the National Land Policy Review is the result of significant economic  and social changes that have taken place since the enactment of the current land law in 1997. Among these are the government’s plans to put in place austerity measures in the medium-term in pursuit of fiscal consolidation and debt reduction. Other contributing factors that led the state to initiate a Land Policy Review process include population growth, climate change, biodiversity off-setting, the emergence of mega-projects, rapid urbanisation, a growing demand for land for housing and commercial investment, and the need to ameliorate the countries land governance practices. 

In terms of the procedure, the Presidential Communique highlighted that the National Land Policy Review process will be carried in a manner that promotes a participatory and inclusive approach that will protect the use and benefit from land for Mozambicans. However, rural women challenge these propositions, given  the lack of equal gender representation in the Commission, in which only one out of 10 members is a woman. 

Expressing outrage at the stark gender imbalance in the Commission during the first meeting with rural women held on 10 September 2020 in Maputo, Nzira de Deus (Executive Director of Forum Mulher) described the exclusion of women in the Commission as a serious transgression in a country that promotes gender equality. She noted, “the government says that there is no more space for more women and the Commission is already on duty”. Adding to these sentiments, Sheila Rafi, Executive Director of Livaningo noted: Will this woman represent the wishes or interest of the majority women in the country? Or will all her demands not be oppressed by the majority men? Will this be able to ensure women land rights? ”. De Deus reminded the attendees that “we have capacity to participate in this process” and encouraged them to fight until they get the seat. The absence of women in the commission contradicts all the assumptions of inclusion, legislative and democratic principles, therefore, it should be reviewed.

Furthermore, Monjane questions the timing of the National Land Policy Review, which coincided with the World Bank funded programme, Additional Financing to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Landscape Management Project (SUSTENTA) in 2017, just a few months after the National Land Policy Review was set in motion. Steps towards the revision of Mozambique’s land law had been in the works since the establishment of the Ministry of Land, Environment and Rural Development (MITADER) in 2014, even though pressure from the donor community  for Mozambique to change the land law in favour of a more market friendly tenure framework can be traced further back. He argues that in some ways, SUSTENTA (Additional Financing to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Landscapes Management Project), replaces the ProSavana Programme (which is cautiously moving ahead), as  Mozambique’s new agricultural development engine.  Unlike the ProSavana Programme which focused on attracting foreign investment, the state has taken a more strategic approach under SUSTENTA.  The 60 million USD project that is funded by the World Bank is promoting the integration of smallholder and peasant agriculture into commercial value chains, individual land titling and the privatisation of land that is under customary tenure in the interest of creating a new class of Mozambican capitalist farmers. Such a project will benefit successful farmers and exclude poor and marginalised farmers, who stand to lose their land or parts of it under SUSTENTA.  

The role of civil society organisations

The launch of the public hearing phase of the National Land Policy Review in July 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic and a national state of emergency in Mozambique points raises concern about the reach of the public consultation process due to restrictions on large public gatherings. Linked to this, lack information about the scope of the National Land Policy Review among civil society organisations and the lack of public awareness about this process  A short and exploratory survey conducted by Livaningo in Maputo and Nampula targeting  100 women found that 86% of women in Nampula did not have any information about the revision process while 65% of the women surveyed in the capital, Maputo, were not aware of the revision of the land policy. This was the case in Nampula where more than half of attendees did not have any information about the revision process.

To address the lack of information and ensure participation of small-scale farmers, women advise the government to work closely with other actors: “Government should work with civil society organisations”, said Sadia Viagem (member of small-scale farmers association in Ekithi community in Ribaue District, Nampula) as these actors will provide information to a wider group, with a diverse set of interests at the community level . 

Despite the widespread disapproval and scepticism about the National Land Law Review among civil society organisations and rural communities, some small-scale farmers expect that the process will help address emerging resource conflicts within the context of large land acquisitions by domestic and international investors that are facilitated by the state and the transfer of land use rights in rural communities through leases. 

 “As committees, we have been involved in the resolution of many conflicts. When there is a conflict between community members, it is easier to resolve but when it involves the community and the company/investor, especially international investors, it is very difficult for us to resolve. The new Land Law revision should clearly address that because we want land rights for future generations”, said Laura Aliante, a small-scale farmer and President of Women Committees in Malema district, Nampula province.

“We already know how the government works, and we fear that this time it will not be different. They will call the community leaders, and the leader’s wives, we the poor women who do not know how to speak, they won’t call us, and we will end up in small pieces of land that do not serve us, we cannot live on a 20×40 meters plot. And we already know, they are offering people these documents, and then they press us. I have seven children, where will my children build their houses? What about girls that will not get married and leave home? This revision has to take into account these issues” said Lucinda Angelo, a small-scale farmer from the Nakitho community in Ribaue district. 

Livaningo argues that the revision of Mozambique’s Land Policy and Land Law is a complex process that requires the involvement of all stakeholders. Given the current context and the realities of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important that the process should not be handled with undue pressure merely to meet deadlines, but should be allocated sufficient time and resources for adequate public consultation in urban and rural settings. This might enable community stakeholders to foster an active, conscious and concerted participation in the process of Land Policy Review.

¹ Under the 1997 Land Law, the state holds ownership of the land and provides that individuals, communities and entities can obtain long-term (or perpetual for individuals and communities) to use and benefit from the land, even without formal documentation of those rights.


This blog article highlights emerging developments on land governance in Mozambique as part of an ongoing multi-country action-research project looking at the privatisation of customary land and implications for women’s land rights and livelihoods in Southern Africa, in cooperation with the Austrian Development Agency. 

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