Mozambique’s 1997 land law recognises land rights acquired through customary practice and good faith occupancy, even without a formal title. However, the lack of transparent public confirmation or documentation can lead to conflict. Sr. Land and Resource Governance Advisor Karol Boudreaux discusses how a partnership between USAID and agribusiness Grupo Madal has helped the company and local communities address long-standing land-access issues and improve livelihoods.
What is causing conflict over land rights?
Mozambique’s land laws allow citizens to have their land rights confirmed by the verbal testimony of other community members – and this testimony creates a legal claim that is just as valid as title documentation, even without documented proof. Despite this, the lack of documentation of community and individual land rights can lead to tensions between neighbours over boundaries or rights to specific areas. It also places many Mozambicans in a weak position when investors seek rights to their land for forestry, farming, and other uses.
In central Mozambique’s Zambézia province, due to a lack of available farmland, roughly 50,000 smallholder farmers have started growing their crops on unused land legally held by the agribusiness Grupo Madal. Most of these farmers are women, using small tracts of land to grow mostly food for their families. At the same time, in the communities adjacent to Grupo Madal’s farms, thousands of others have acquired land rights, but very few have documented proof. This lack of documentation has led to tensions and conflicts between people within these communities competing over scarce land.
USAID’s Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) programme is partnering with Grupo Madal and a local civil society organisation (CSO), the Associação de Apoio ao Desenvolvimento (Development Support Association or NANA) to raise awareness of land and resource rights and improving tenure security, while addressing harmful gender norms and promoting women’s empowerment and economic security.
The USAID-Grupo Madal partnership
In 2016, Grupo Madal changed ownership, prompting a shift away from an estate-based production model, which had been in place since Mozambique’s colonial period, to a more inclusive business model designed to intentionally integrate and benefit neighbouring communities. The company’s new approach has included an initiative to help resource-poor farmers who were using Madal land to transition into a more secure situation. The goal was to help the farmers feed their families and earn income, while providing a source of revenue for the company.
How the public-private partnership works
The partnership initially worked with 3,300 smallholder farmers (over 67% were women) from 14 communities adjacent to four Madal plantations. Through an innovative model for ‘ingrowers’ (mostly landless women farming on Madal land) and ‘outgrowers’ (women and men farmers with land in neighbouring communities), the partnership seeks to include these smallholder farmers in Madal’s supply chains.
After an initial assessment to gauge community needs, the partnership has focused on introducing land-use agreements and farming contracts for ingrower families to strengthen their land-use rights and provide an opportunity to enter commercial value chains to help increase incomes. Families farming on Madal lands now have access to larger plots, allowing them to grow and sell commodities to Madal and grow food crops for household consumption. Madal specifies the crops it requires, provides appropriate inputs and technical advice, and guarantees to buy the resulting harvest.
Madal has also recruited seven community members, four of them women, with farming experience and communication skills to support the company’s extension officers and increase engagement within the communities. Most Madal extension agents are men, so engaging women as community facilitators has improved the company’s ability to reach women farmers. This community-based extension model inspires other women by increasing their technical skills, self-esteem, and confidence.
Now, with greater tenure security, these farmers have also organised themselves into producers’ clubs. “Before, each one of us women farmers worked separately. Now we are organised in producers’ clubs,” said Florinda Francisco, an ingrower farmer. “We have confidence in working with Madal and we want to sell our production to the company because they are the ones who made the land available for us.”
Documenting and managing community lands
Neighbouring outgrower communities have also received help to document their collective land rights and their individual farms. Similar to the ingrower agreement, some may decide to sign contracts to produce crops for Madal, receiving inputs and technical support.
With support from NANA, communities clarify their boundaries using mobile applications to secure tenure (MAST), a participatory land-documentation approach that improves transparency and equity and emphasises social inclusion and gender equality. The approach begins by raising communities’ awareness of their legal land rights. Communities then establish land associations to manage their land and natural resources, engage in participatory land-use planning, and develop community land-use regulations.
Impacts and next steps
Since 2020, the USAID-Madal partnership has mapped 8,000 hectares in 14 communities adjacent to Madal lands through participatory processes, enabling 6,500 families to receive certificates of community land rights from the provincial government. A total of 1,300 ingrower farmers (85% women) have entered into land-use agreements on Madal lands, and 2,000 outgrower farmers (55% women) have delimited their family lands, opening up opportunities for them to benefit from contract farming.
The partnership’s approach to strengthen land claims and build trusting and beneficial relationships between companies and neighbouring farmers is uncommon in Mozambique. It has the potential to create a viable model for responsible land-based investment that benefits private-sector actors and communities, and improves women’s economic security. The Mozambique Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has already expressed interest in supporting expansion of this innovative model to other companies and provinces.
Grupo Madal sees this activity as a major opportunity to clarify land rights and build trust with communities. The partnership has helped Madal to focus on rehabilitating its historically unused landholdings and integrating communities into their supply chain with benefits for both. The company has also welcomed USAID’s support in engaging with farmers – most of whom are women – in a gender-responsive way.
Sensitising private companies to land-related issues and supporting them to set up inclusive models can benefit communities and help secure their long-term rights to access and use land. Despite inherent power imbalances, with support, farmers can work with companies to clarify their land holdings, giving them the security they need to invest in their plots. Smallholders can also increase their access to inputs, technical skills, and markets, thereby improving their livelihoods, food security, and well-being. Public-private partnerships can be particularly beneficial for women, allowing them to feed their families while helping to earn additional income. Working with companies and CSOs can help ensure community rights and needs are considered, and help aggregate community voices for greater impact. Further support from the Government of Mozambique is essential to scale-up and institutionalise these approaches. Taking this holistic approach, USAID is helping improve livelihoods for thousands of Mozambique’s women and men.
Relevant RLBI Navigator resources
Namati’s Guide to organizing and working with community-based paralegals
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International Accountability Project’s Community-action guide: what is development?
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LEGEND’s guide Legacy land issues: addressing historical disputes in agribusiness investments
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Rainforest Foundation’s Mapping for Rights methodology: a new approach to participatory mapping
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Landesa’s guide Achieving socially responsible land investment - model guidebook for business enterprises considering agricultural investment
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The World Bank’s Responsible Agricultural Investment: Knowledge into action notes series
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For a more in-depth look at the USAID’s private sector partnerships in the land and natural resource space, see the Responsible Land-Based Investment Case Study Series on USAID’s Land-links.org portal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ms. Boudreaux is a Senior Land and Resource Governance Advisor at USAID where she supports USAID Missions, Bureaus, and Offices to design, develop and implement activities and policies that promote secure land rights and reflect the key role that equitable land and resource governance plays in promoting multiple development objectives. She is a lawyer and has published widely on topics related to land tenure and property rights and she earned her B.A. from Douglass College, Rutgers University, and her J.D. from the University of Virginia, where she focused on international law.
About the Blog Series
This blog is part of the ‘Navigating the challenges of land-based investment’ series, which is jointly edited by Land Portal and IIED, with funding from FCDO, as part of the ALIGN project. Other blogs in the series can be found here.