Mozambique’s 1997 Land Law reasserts the state’s ownership of land and provides that individuals, communities and entities can obtain long-term or perpetual rights to land, even without formal documentation of those rights. This right is known by the acronym DUAT, from the Portuguese Direito de Uso e Aproveitamento dos Terras.
While in theory, the law provides communities and individuals with strong tenure security over their land, the majority of Mozambique’s millions of rural residents lack the capacity to secure their rights in practice (despite significant civil society and government efforts to raise awareness of rights at local level). Those who are aware of their rights often don’t have the financial and technical support necessary to assert and use those rights effectively. Furthermore, the dual objectives of Mozambique’s progressive Land Law – to protect and support rural community and smallholder land-rights while encouraging an inclusive and rights-aware private investment process – have been implemented unevenly.
Local land rights remain vulnerable to capture by elites who often enjoy state support on the grounds that they have greater capacity than smallholders to bring unused resources into production. These conditions make it difficult for communities and individual landholders lacking formal land documentation to defend their land rights against third parties, make long-term investments in their land, or meaningfully engage in negotiations with the private sector. While some reform can address ambiguities in the Law, far more attention is needed to increase the government’s implementation capacity and enable an integrated approach that develops and provides accessible services for communities and allows them to fully realize the potential of their land.