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Gender and Land Rights Database


In 2009, the country’s population was estimated at 21.4 million, with 51.6 percent female population and with an annual population growth rate of 2.24 percent (1). The country has a relatively low population density, with an average of 27 people per square kilometre; in the Ilha de Moçambique the average population density reaches 13 thousand people per square kilometre (2). In 2007, 64 percent of the total estimated population lived in rural areas (3). Half of the urban population lives in Maputo, while 38 percent of the total population is concentrated in the Zambezia and Nampula provinces (4).

Between 1996 and 2007, and after the end of the civil war in 1992, the country reached an average annual rate of economic growth of 8 percent. In 2007, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was USD 8.8 billion and per capita GDP was estimated at USD 350 (3). The same year, agriculture accounted for 23.1 percent of GDP, industry for 30.2 percent and services for 46.7 percent. Although the contribution of agriculture to the GDP, which was 44.1 percent in 1998, has decreased over the last 10 years, the agricultural sector still accounts for one-fifth of the GDP and four-fifths of the total exports (5).

The agricultural sector also employs 80 percent of the total labour force (4). Smallholders generate 99 percent of the country’s food production. The basic food crops they produce – maize, groundnuts, cassava, beans and rice – dominate overall crop production, although commercial farms are gradually gaining importance. Smaller marketing and agroprocessing businesses are also developing and opening up new market opportunities for small-scale farmers in a wider range of products. However, growth has been uneven across the country; the central and northern areas have the highest agricultural potential compared with the southern drier and less fertile areas which are frequently subject to flooding and droughts (5).

In 2006, the Human Development Index (HDI) was 0.366, placing the country 175th out of the 179 countries measured (6). Between 1990 and 2005, the percentage of the population living below the income poverty line of USD1 per day reached 36.2 percent, while 74.1 percent of the population was living with less than USD 2 per day. In the same period, 24 percent of children under the age of five were underweight. On the other hand, the level of the total undernourished population decreased between 1990 and 2004, dropping from 66 to 44 percent (7).

Among the rural population, 55.3 percent lived below the USD 1 per day poverty line in 2003. Farming is the main source of food and income for households residing in rural areas but agricultural productivity is very low. Rural communities are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters such as droughts and floods (5). The prevalence of the HIV/AIDS virus is an additional point of vulnerability for rural households, worsening quality of life and nutrition levels.

Among the total population, 10.3 percent were infected in 2006 (3). The virus affects the most productive household members with direct consequences on women’s care burden (5). In 2000, women made up 58 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS (8). In 2000–2005, life expectancy at birth was estimated at 43.6 years for females and 42 years for males (7). Between 1995-2005, the adult literacy rate among adults aged 15-49 was 25 percent for females and 54.8 percent for males (7).

Ninety-three percent of women are involved in agriculture. Household farming, particularly subsistence agriculture, is traditionally a woman’s job; men may clear the land and participate in harvesting, but women’s tasks include sowing, planting, weeding and irrigating. Nonetheless, only 20 percent of women have more than 2 hectares. In addition, 65 percent of female-headed households occupy less than 1.5 hectares compared with 47 percent of male-headed households (4). The number of women who are heads of households has increased from 23 percent in 1980 to 30 percent in 1997 (4).

The Constitution of 1990 brought a more conciliatory position of the State regarding the role of traditional institutions and customary practices, particularly with regard to possession and use of land. More specifically, the Land Law 1997 and the following Regulations of 1998, introduced legal measures to help local communities, families and individuals, men and women assert their rights over land acquired by occupation or customary in good faith. The law also invoked other forms of proof of land rights, such as the oral testimony of neighbours, thereby replacing the need for written registrations and titling of land (9).

However, problems associated with implementation, including knowledge of the law by the population, poor interpretation and enforcement by the authorities and judicial and administrative officials, disrespect for the law in parts of powerful business sectors, persistency of customary norms and practices contrary to the fundamental values of the Constitution, among other factors, has made it difficult for the majority of the population to benefit from the protection brought by the new land law.

The resulting ambiguity creates uncertainty about the interpretation and proper application of formal law, which, in turn, may result in tenure insecurity on the part of women, in particular. Indeed, despite the recent advances made with the new 2004 Constitution, as well as national policies and programmes, namely the Government Five Year Programme (2005-2009) and the Programme Against Absolute Poverty (PARPA), discriminatory practices against women remain: the dichotomy between statutory and customary systems together with the generality and ambiguity with which customary law is integrated in statutory provisions, compounded with an overall insufficient articulation of the question of gender equality in national development strategies, are some of the more relevant obstacles yet to be overcome (9).

Since the approval of the 1997 Land Law, more than 31.3 thousand requests for land were dealt with, corresponding to 15,5 million hectares of land. On the other hand, the country has 248 delimited community areas, representing 9 457 095, 79 ha of the total area: community areas are defined by the law as a social entity of people and territory, structured around a common interest with relative organizational and institutional structures which maintain the cultural and historical background of the interested territory (9).

Among the major causes of land tenure conflicts, the following should be mentioned: a) increasing pressure of applications for DUAT for tourism along the coast; b) disputes over areas to be adjudicated between communities and individuals, legal persons; c) invasion of the livestock farmers' fields; d) weak dissemination of the land law within communities (9). More specifically, land conflicts in the provinces of Maputo, Manica, Tete and Cabo Delgado are more frequent since these are the areas that have less land available: Maputo has 11 000 thousand ha, Manica 381 950 ha, Tete 661 730 ha and Cabo Delgado 269 100 ha (9).

Overall, the number of disputes are persistently increasing thereby preventing access to and use of land on the part of local communities and small individual holders: according to information provided by the National Directorate of Lands and Forests, during the year 2007, a total of 148 cases of land conflicts were recorded and of these 85 have been resolved and 63 were in the process resolution (9). These factors, compounded with lack of sufficient, timely support on the part of the judiciary, exacerbate access to and use of land on the part of local small holders and particularly on the part of women who are often unable to claim their rights to the land they cultivate (9).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography