Group of villagers meeting in Mozambique

Villagers meet in Mozambique to discuss land rights.

JANUARY 2011. Experience from Mozambique demonstrates that, although a legal framework is an essential piece of secure land tenure, laws alone do not guarantee the ability to exercise land rights.  
In 1997, Mozambique passed a progressive land law that safeguarded communities’ land rights through recognition of land use and benefit rights (called DUATs based on the Portuguese acronym).  DUATs can be awarded based on customary practices and use, and include low-cost measures for implementation.  The law does not require registration of customary land rights for them to be valid, and only those seeking new land rights (as opposed to those holding a DUAT under customary occupancy) must mark boundaries, register land, and pay rents to the government for use.
However, limited capacity and lack of political will have handicapped public-sector implementation of the law in Mozambique.   The rural land administration lacks trained personnel and specialized equipment, and the country does not have a unified land administration strategy or land information management system.  Meanwhile, rural citizens remain unaware of their land rights under the law or how to have them recorded.  
Where residents are aware of their rights, the costs of identifying and recording DUATs are often prohibitive. Because few community rights are formally registered, the surge in investors’ demand for land in Mozambique threatens to deprive rural inhabitants of their land rights.  When not recorded, those holding land under customary DUATs are vulnerable to losing their land because the State may overlook their rights when awarding land to an investor.
In an attempt to address the shortfalls in implementation, the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation invested $40 million over five years, beginning in 2009, to strengthen land administration capacity in four northern provinces in Mozambique.  The project included human resources training, building technical capacity of rural land administration, developing a nationwide land administration strategy and land information management system, and establishing a fund to cover the cost of delimitation of communities.  Efforts like this could serve to strengthen implementation of the Land Law and increase recognition for customary land rights.