January 2011 - On the heels of independence, a 17-year civil war gripped Mozambique. As the country began post-war reconstruction in the 1990s, policymakers recognized two potentially competing needs: 1) securing land rights for Mozambique’s rural population, and 2) creating a welcoming environment for investment and development to increase agricultural productivity, introduce new businesses, and create jobs. To meet both objectives, a new land law was drafted which some now consider to be among the most progressive in the world.
The participatory process that led to the law was perhaps as innovative as the law itself. To protect rural peoples’ customary land rights, the government worked with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to form an inclusive Land Commission. The Commission solicited input from national authorities, experts, local officials, and NGOs working at the local level.
Ultimately, Mozambique’s Land Law gives communities the right to control and participate in the development of their land. Communities and individuals can offer proof of land rights through oral testimony, eliminating the costly obstacles of surveying, registration, and titling that often prevent the poor from securing their rights.
Though the State ultimately owns all land, Mozambicans, women and men, have the right to use and benefit from the land. This right is known as a DUAT. The law defines three ways by which communities, individuals and companies can obtain a DUAT.
- Rural communities have a perpetual DUAT for land occupied under customary systems.
- Individuals occupying land in good faith for at least ten years have a perpetual DUAT for residential and family use.
- Individuals or companies can apply for a DUAT for a particular piece of land for up to 50 years, with one renewal.
If an investor applies for land held under a community DUAT, the law requires the investor to consult with the community, and secure their agreement to cede their rights to the investor. In exchange for ceding their land rights, communities can negotiate for terms and benefits. The government must also confirm that the consultation occurred before approving an investor’s application.
On its own, a law cannot ensure secure land rights for local people. A participatory approach to implementation, and concerted efforts to identify and record the boundaries of customary DUATs, can help to make these rights a reality.