Gender and Land Rights Database


Prevailing systems of land tenure

The regime of land rights and consequently, the tenure system has undergone a radical change in the last few years. The Land Policy was adopted in 1995, the Land Law was passed in 1997, regulations for dealing with rural land parcels were promulgated in 1998 and a Technical Annex to these regulations, detailing the methodology by which registration of community rights should take place, was passed at the end of 1999. These changes took place within a context of general transition, as the country made a shift from socialism to political pluralism, following a century of centralism rooted in colonial rule (17).

There are two tenure systems in the country: statutory and customary. Land tenure under the statutory system is based on leasehold. Land held on leasehold accounts for 3 percent, state-owned land accounts for 14 percent and customary land accounts for 80 percent of the total land (18).

Under the 1997 Land Law, the state owns all lands but can grant use rights to individuals, communities and companies in the form of “right of use”, also known as Direito de uso e aproveitamento da terra (DUAT), that can last up to 100 years. These rights cannot be freely transferred, not even sold or mortgaged (9). 

Use rights can be acquired either through occupancy or by a specific grant through the state. The Government can issue use-right title documents to individuals, companies or entire communities and groups, although those who occupy the land for more than ten years acquire permanent use rights without the need for title documents (21).

The land law explicitly refers to the community as a social entity of people and territory, structured around a common interest. The three elements which constitute a community are the following:  

a) human: a group of families and individuals with a certain organization and institutional element;

b) territorial: the area occupied by the community, which should not exceed the area of location; 

c) finalistic: interest to protect or secure the possession and use of land or other natural resources or simply historical and cultural places. 

The combination of these three elements identifies and defines the meaning of community (9).

The land law also protects the rights of small landholder returnees against the claims of large landholders by creating requirements for development plans before title can be issued. The Government will grant up to 100-year use rights two years (for foreign  land title holders) and five (for national land title holders) after issuing title, only when there is evidence that the development plan is actually being carried out on the land (21).

To avoid conflicting land claims created by overlapping issuance of title, the law prevents the state from granting new occupation rights when others already hold title over the land in question. To prevent incidences where one agency grants land rights over a certain property, while another agency grants land rights to someone else over the same property, the law creates a more structured system for delegating the power to grant titles for land use in particular areas. The law also provides that titles identify the scope of the land occupied. When conflicts emerge about which claims over a certain piece of land are legitimate, the new land law provides court remedies that take into account the verbal testimonies of community members (21).

Local communities exercise considerable discretion in managing natural resources, resolving conflicts, implementing titling processes and defining the limits of land they occupy. This provision allows the use of local customary law in determining local land rights policies. Furthermore, to determine whether the land in question is occupied, the state must consult local authorities before granting leasehold titles that last up to 50 years. However, the former Land Law of July 1979 contained a provision that advocated accountability from local authorities by requiring that they give a legal statement that specifies “the representation mechanisms” of their local communities (21).

There is a rich diversity of indigenous tenure practices across the country, one key difference being the distinction between patrilineal and matrilineal communities. Indeed, the northern part of the country is characterized by the prevalence of matrilineal customary practices as opposed to the southern part of the country where patrilineal practices are more widespread. Nevertheless, the gender equity implications related to the multiplicity of such customary tenure practices is yet to be analyzed: here, particular attention needs to be given to the rapidly evolving customary practices as a result of the ever increasing inclusion of communities in the national market economy (9).

National and local institutions enforcing land regulations

The Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG) through the National Directorate of Lands and Forests (DNTF). The DNTF oversees the implementation of government policy of land and provides technical support services at provincial and district levels. The DNTF is responsible for the National Register of Lands, consisting of the registration of all land in the country, including in regions and provinces. The land registration titles include detailed, specific notes on the individual or economic entity occupying the land and the finalistic reasons for which the land is being held (9).

At the provincial level the DNTF still unfolds in two sectors: the Provincial Services of Geography and Cadastre (SPGC) and the Provincial Forestry and Wildlife (SPFFB). It is mainly at the provincial level that most of the processes associated with the administration or land allocation takes place. It is here that cadastral maps are stored, along with the files which record information concerning occupation and land uses (9).

An inter-ministerial committee, chaired by the Prime Minister and supported by a technical secretariat, implements the rules of reformed land (24).

In support of the central judicial system, a judicial network, consisting of approximately 1500 community courts whose members are appointed by the local community, is responsible for improving the implementation of land regulation.

Land administration institutions and women quotas

The National Directorate of Lands and Forests (DNTF), is an executive government institution within the Ministry of Agriculture. Its main responsibilities involve providing national land mapping and managing all land rights concession procedures and registration. Within the DNTF, out of a total of 284 members, 102 are women (9).

Provincial cadastral offices are present in each of the ten provinces (9).

In urban areas, the Municipal Councils deal with land management. In rural and other areas, land is managed by the state through its governors and district administrators in each province (25).

The Provincial Geographic and Cadastral Services (SPGC) are responsible for processing land concession applications and community land registrations. Their key responsibilities include maintaining proper cadastral records, ensuring compliance with the Land Law, providing technical services and collecting land-use taxes (19).

The District Directorates of Agriculture are the principal district-level government agencies involved in land registration (19).

Funding provisions to guarantee women’s land transactions

The Agricultural Financial System (SFR) is a component of the National Agricultural Development Programme (PROAGRI); its main objective is to guarantee the flow of funds to the family sector and, more specifically, to women. Between 1987 and 1995, the amount of credit increased from US$26.1 million to USD 35 million. Nevertheless, the potential beneficiaries of such schemes have encountered difficulties in accessing credit because of a lack of earnings and the conditions needed or required by commercial banks (11).

In order to facilitate the family sector’s access to credit, alternative sources of rural funding have been implemented, such as the Agricultural and Rural Development Fund (FFADR), the Fisheries Development Fund (FFP), the Small Industry Development Fund (FFPI) and the Fund for Agricultural Credit and Rural Development (CCADR) (11).

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the informal sector are actively involved in creating credit initiatives. Examples include the Association of Nampula’s Rural Women (AMRN) which, through the help of local NGOs, carries out profit-making activities to collect savings for the credit fund, and the Matuba Association of Cattle Herders and Agriculturalists (AGROPEM) in the Gaza Province in the southern part of the country, which benefits from credit funded by UNIFEM (11).

Other factors influencing gender differentiated land rights

Women have a limited access to the judicial system. Their ability to claim their land rights is restricted because of the high rate of illiteracy among women; low school enrolment among young girls means that they often do not speak Portuguese, which is the language most commonly used in official contexts (14).

Increasing urbanization and internal migration of men towards greater market opportunities hinder women’s capacity to gain access to land and to ascertain themselves in agricultural activities. Even in matrilineal societies, the combined effects of urbanization and wage labour place greater emphasis on nuclear families headed by males, where patriarchal family systems prevail and where women’s roles are relegated to basic subsistence chores (4).

The fact that the available land (barely 7 million hectares) can be allocated by the government for the various development activities, including for major agricultural industries , is a major threat for the resolution of land distribution issues. Indeed, access to land on the part of local, individual holders is significantly jeopardized by the fact that foreign investors often have more bargaining power and occupy large tracts of land for projects of bio-fuels and construction (9).  Moreover, in terms of conflict resolution, there is often a weak intervention on the part of the judiciary.

Although the Land Law specifically acknowledges the equal right of men and women to own and use land, local administrators, political leaders and public officials responsible for enforcing the new land regulations rarely have sufficient exposure to the law. As a result, law enforcement is often haphazard and not gender-sensitive (18).

The higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS among women and girls exacerbates gender differentiated land rights. The fact that women are often viewed as subordinate to men perpetuates the tolerance of traditional practices, such as polygamy and widow inheritance through levirate, thereby increasing women’s vulnerability to contracting HIV. Female AIDS sufferers are often stigmatized and their access to land cultivation is severely restricted: in extreme cases women are abandoned by their families or altogether banned from the community (4).

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