An image of the country's flag.

Mozambique is a large, sparsely populated country in southern Africa with a coastline nearly as long as the eastern seaboard of the United States. Following a 16-year civil war that began shortly after independence from Portugal in 1975 and ended in 1992, Mozambique achieved political and economic stability and began to experience very rapid growth on its small economic base. With substantial assistance from international donors, the country is rebuilding its war-damaged and neglected infrastructure, investing in health and education and laying the policy and institutional foundation for continued economic growth. An important part of this foundation includes laws governing land and forest use that recognize traditional community rights while also encouraging investment.

While Mozambique has grown very rapidly since the end of its civil war, more than half of its population remains poor. Mozambique’s agricultural sector consists primarily of small farmers with limited amounts of unproductive land under rainfed cultivation. Most irrigated land is used by a small number of large commercial farmers. Large tracts of land, including former colonial farms, have generally not been parceled out, and there are very few medium-sized farms. About a quarter of Mozambique is forested, and the country’s legal framework supports traditional uses of forest and forest resources, the harvesting of timber and non-timber forest products, and the creation of community-based forest enterprises. However, the regulatory framework tends to favor national and international companies over small and medium businesses, and rural populations have high incentives to operate informal forest-product-based businesses and engage in unsustainable exploitation practices.

Mozambique has significant deposits of titanium, aluminum, coal and diamonds, but the civil war prevented development of the minerals sector. Historically, a large percentage of mining has been done by small-scale and artisanal miners, and the mining law supports small-scale enterprises. Nonetheless, the majority of small-scale miners operate without effective environmental and health safeguards. The government is investing in major public infrastructure to facilitate the growth of the mining sector, and foreign investors have responded by constructing large-scale coal, aluminum and titanium operations. It is not clear what impact sector growth may have had on artisanal and small-scale operators, and there is little evidence of government efforts to support those smaller enterprises.


  • Implementation of land law. The dual objectives of Mozambique’s progressive land law – support for rural community land rights and encouragement of private investment – have been unevenly implemented. The legal framework provides communities with some degree of tenure security over their land, but despite significant public awareness building efforts, a majority of the thousands of rural residents are unaware of their land rights as communities and as individuals. Those who are aware of their rights almost uniformly lack the financial and technical support necessary to assert those rights effectively. Communities that lack that support are ill-equipped to delimit their land, prepare development plans, consider investment opportunities or meaningfully engage in negotiations with prospective investors. Smallholders who lack such support are unable to demarcate and register their land rights, limiting their ability to participate in programs,access credit and defend their rights against third parties. Experts who have been engaged with the design and development of the land law in Mozambique have called for an integrated approach to implementation that develops and provides the services that communities must have to realize the benefits of their land rights within the overall context of rural development. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is funding a comprehensive Land Tenure Services Project that includes work on policy and legislative review through the Land Policy Consultative Forum, which was established by Government of Mozambique (GOM) decree in October 2010. MCC’s project also includes activities designed to help the GOM implement the Land Law, including support for public outreach and dispute resolution. Donors can help the GOM’s implementation the Land Law by extending ongoing efforts into new areas of the country or developing complementary activities. For example, donors could help develop a services center model for delivery of the services that communities and their members need in order to recognize and benefit from their land rights in the larger context of rural development. Donors could help private actors and entities provide communities and individuals with information about the land law, natural resource inventories, land delimitation services, legal aid, help with program development, and training in negotiation and partner-investor relations. Specific attention should be given to developing and offering services tailored to women and marginalized groups.
  • Dispute resolution. Mozambique has a system of about 1600 community courts that evolved separately from the formal court system. The community courts are highly accessible, and community members often elect to bring land disputes to these forums even though the adjudicators do not receive professional training and the procedures and outcomes often lack consistency. Donors who have been assisting the government in strengthening its formal court system and improving judicial administration are well-suited to help to help support and deepen ongoing efforts to develop effective mechanisms and forums to resolve land disputes. Donors could, for example, assess the community court system and options for strengthening the informal system and linking it to the formal system. Particular attention should be paid to community court functions related to land disputes, including the courts’ use of formal documentation and records, the use of community courts by non-community members, and the relationship of community court officials with government counterparts.
  • Registering land use rights related to small and medium-size holdings. Until recently, most donors engaged in land issues in Mozambique have supported public awareness building and delimitation of community land. Less attention has been paid to small and medium-size holdings, whether the right-holder seeks individualized rights to land within a land use right (direito de uso e aproveitamento dos terras or DUAT) held by a community, or seeks access to agricultural land though a land use right granted by the government. These land use rights (DUATs) are equivalent under the law, and delimitation of the landholding and registration of the DUATs will create a public record of the individual plots and will help farmers qualify for investment loans and participate in carbon-sequestration and reforestation projects. MCC’s Land Tenure Services Project includes an activity to assist smallholders and individuals register their DUATs. Donors could help support and extend the MCC activity or provide complementary activities with a particular focus, such as supporting the rights of women farmers or particular smallholder enterprises.
  • Land law revision. The GOM has convened a Land Policy Consultative Forum to help the legislative reform process. The 2007 USAID-commissioned study identifies several areas in which legislative reforms are indicated, including removing constraints on transfer of rural land rights, developing an appropriate authorization fee for land grants, compensating investors for real property improvements at the end of use-periods, and transitioning the government from a land management role to a land administration role by limiting its involvement in reviewing compliance with exploitation plans. In addition, MCC funding is supporting an initiative to seek first registration of statutory land rights in an effort to recognize those rights prior to awards of DUATs to investors, and members of civil society are calling for development of a law on community consultations to help improve the consultation process. Donors can continue to provide technical assistance and support to the government as it engages in the process of collecting input on legislative reforms and proposed language and revisions.
  • Forestry sector SME development. Mozambique has significant forest resources and a substantial number of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) operating in the forestry sector. The vast majority, however, operate outside the formal law in an effort to avoid the requirements imposed on forestry concessions, which are burdensome to small operators. USAID and other donors experienced in working with SME programs could assist government plans to support SMEs by helping revise the legal framework to encourage SMEs to move into the formal sector. This revised legal framework should seek to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place to support sustainable use of forest resources and participation of all community members – especially women and marginalized groups – in forest enterprises.


Mozambique’s independence from Portugal in 1975 was followed by 16 years of civil war. The war displaced millions of people, destroyed infrastructure and prevented significant investment in several sectors, including agriculture and mining. As the country emerged from the war and entered a period of national reconstruction, the government gave substantial attention to creating legal frameworks governing land, and these frameworks recognized traditional community rights while encouraging investment. The resulting legislation was progressive: land is owned by the state, and communities and goodfaith occupants have perpetual use- rights to land. Grants of 50- year renewable use-rights are available at next to no cost for investors and others seeking land, subject to approved exploitation plans. Investors are required to consult with communities before obtaining concessions for agribusinesses and other development.

To date, most of the population are not yet benefiting adequately from the legal reforms, and more than half are poor. Most of the country’s producers are small farmers primarily growing for their own consumption. Mozambique’s farmers have an average of 1.8 hectares of rainfed land and use limited inputs. Productivity is low, and most production is subsistence farming. Most irrigated land is used by a small number of large commercial farmers, primarily growing sugarcane. The law requires government approval of land uses and transactions in land use rights, which restricts development of a formal land market. Former colonial farms and large tracts of long-term land use rights purchased for investment have generally not been parceled out. In many cases, private investors purchased rights under very favorable terms and hold large portions of land for future use or speculation. The government’s failure in many instances to require investors to prepare exploitation plans and demonstrate their ability to develop the land, coupled with lax enforcement of the Land Law’s audit provisions, have contributed to the underutilization of land. The state has also maintained large holdings intact, hoping to attract large commercial enterprises that will bring large amounts of capital investment to the region. As a result of these practices, the country has few medium-sized (10–100 hectare) farms.

The land legislation has provided communities with some degree of tenure security, but in general the law has been inadequately implemented in most areas. Local officials and communities are often unaware of the law governing the land rights of communities and individuals. Registration of community and individual occupancy rights is voluntary, and few communities and individuals with occupancy rights to land have had the financial and technical support necessary to delimit their land and register their rights. As a result, third parties often do not have notice of those rights. In many cases, the required consultation between investors and communities has been met only in form, not substance.

In cities, the majority of residents live in informal settlements with limited services. The land legislation provides a basis for long-term residents to formalize their rights, but most are unaware of the process, and those who are aware consider the cost prohibitive. Meanwhile, the informal market in land use rights is active. Mozambique has not yet taken advantage of its abundant surface and groundwater resources. Civil war, neglect, and lack of technical capacity have caused destruction and decay of water distribution and irrigation infrastructure. Rural areas have only 30% water coverage and water quality is poor. The country has significant potential for irrigation, especially in the central provinces.

About a quarter of Mozambique is forested, and the legal framework governing the sector is reasonably progressive. Local communities have rights to use the forest and forest resources for traditional uses, and they can obtain licenses to harvest timber and non-timber forest products. The legislation supports community forest management and some projects (with significant and ongoing NGO and donor support) have created successful community-based forest enterprises. In general, the regulatory framework works against small and medium businesses, and most operate in the informal sector, leaving the most valuable forest concessions to national and international companies.

Mozambique’s minerals sector suffered from lack of investment during the years of civil war and has only recently begun to be developed. The country has significant deposits of several minerals, including titanium, aluminum, coal and diamonds. The government is concentrating on development of infrastructure, such as railways, port expansion and creation of electronic data sources to support the industry. Mozambique is a candidate country for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Published / Updated: February 2011