This case study is part of a series highlighting how USAID is partnering with the private sector and local communities to strengthen land tenure in order to minimize the risks associated with large agricultural, forestry, energy and other investments. The series, which covers partnerships in Mozambique, Ghana and Kenya, demonstrates that bolstering local land rights can be good for both business and communities. For companies, it can reduce operational, financial and reputational risks. For local farmers, it can incentivize investments and increase access to finance. In sum, it can promote economic growth and build local resilience.

The Responsible Investment Project in Mozambique helped Illovo Sugar Africa (pty) Ltd.’s (Illovo) Maragra Sugar Estate and its suppliers adopt global best practices by implementing elements of The Analytical Framework for Land-Based Investments in African Agriculture to address land tenure risks. Specifically, the project supported a participatory mapping process and the development of a local grievance mechanism.

The Challenge

In the aftermath of a 17-year civil war, Mozambique’s 1997 Land Law sought to support rural community land rights and lay the foundation for private investment and development. Often hailed as one of Africa’s most progressive land laws, it established “the right of land use and benefit of land” – commonly referred to as a DUAT, an acronym of the Portuguese term Direito a Uso e Aproveitamento de Terra. A DUAT recognizes the land rights of communities and individuals acquired through customary systems and good faith occupancy, even without formal documentation of those rights. 1 

More than 90 percent of land in Mozambique is used under unregistered good faith occupancy and customary tenure arrangements.2 While these rights are recognized under the 1997 law, in practice land tenure for millions of rural residents has remained insecure. Without formal, documented rights to their land, there is little incentive to invest.


Moreover, the majority of Mozambique’s millions of rural residents lack the financial resources and technical support necessary to protect their land rights. Women are particularly vulnerable; they are often less educated, poorer and have limited decision-making power over land compared to men. In addition, many women continue to face discriminatory inheritance practices and eviction from their marital land by the families of their deceased spouses. These conditions make it difficult for communities and individual landholders to defend their land rights against third parties, make long-term investments in their land, or meaningfully engage in negotiations with the private sector.

“We know how important it is to have our land legalized. We have been wanting to legalize our land for a long time, but we have not had the resources…. we know the value of having a DUAT for our land.”

Female, Northern Pilot Area

Increasing pressure on land in Mozambique from medium- and large-scale investments in agribusiness, extractives and infrastructure has led many individuals and communities to turn to the formal DUAT titling process to obtain documentation for their land.4 However, few communities or individuals have the resources needed to apply for and receive a formal title. The process is cumbersome, time-consuming and prohibitively costly for many. It involves high application fees and the costs of traveling to the appropriate land administration offices, often on multiple occasions. At the same time, the institutional capacity of local land authorities to survey land and register DUAT title applications is limited.5 As a result, the majority of land in Mozambique has remained unregistered, and customary tenure holders are invisible on official maps or land registries.

The lack of registered landholdings in Mozambique is a key source of land tenure risk. As a result, local governments and investors often fail to adequately recognize community land rights and uses, leaving both communities and investors at risk.6

At the end of the day, any conflict related to land where sugarcane is growing, it comes back to us… so we hope the project will assist us in ensuring the reputational risk to Illovo related to land conflicts is mitigated.”

Antonio Matavale, Illovo Sugar Africa Ltd.’s Risk Control Manager

In Mozambique, land disputes are relatively common in rural areas where concessions have been granted to investors.7 Insufficient accounting of community land rights and uses can impose significant costs on investor project objectives, including costly delays, work stoppages, protests and even violence. Investors can also face supply chain risk, legal actions and suffer financial, brand or reputational harm. Communities can be left substantially worse off as a result of decreased access to land, and local people may be much less willing to engage with the private sector in the future.8

1 Nielsen, Robin L. Focus on Land in Africa. Mozambique’s Innovative Land Law. Accessed from

2 Balas, Marisa et al. “A Fit for Purpose Land Cadastre in Mozambique” Paper prepared for presentation at the 2017 World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty. March 2017.

3 Knox, Anna. Tanner, Christopher. 2011. Focus on Land in Africa: Securing Women’s Land Rights in Mozambique. Accessed from

4 LANDac. 2016. Food Security and Land Governance Factsheet: Mozambique. Accessed from

5 Van Den Brin, Rogier J. E. “Land Reform in Mozambique.” World Bank Agriculture & Rural Development Notes, Issue 43, World Bank, Washington, DC, December 2008.

6 USAID. 2011. Mozambique—Property Rights and Resource Governance Profile. Accessed from

7 USAID. 2011. Mozambique—Property Rights and Resource Governance Profile. Accessed from

8 USAID. 2015. Operational Guidelines for Responsible Land-Based Investment. Accesses from

The Innovation

Illovo Sugar Africa Ltd., a multi-national agricultural commodity producer, collaborated with USAID on the Responsible Investment Project in Mozambique to develop and test new approaches to improve local tenure security in areas surrounding their Maragra Sugar Estate and mitigate operational, financial and reputational risks.

Securing land tenure among communities in Mozambique can foster resilience and increase opportunities for social and economic empowerment.

The project centered on Illovo’s 6,500 hectare Maragra Sugar Estate in Mozambique. The Estate procures sugarcane from hundreds of growers working on approximately 5,000 ha of surrounding land. To guide the procurement of sugarcane, Illovo launched its Group Guidelines on Land and Land Rights in 2015. The Guidelines commit the company to respect the legitimate land rights of its local stakeholders and only contract with cane outgrowers who can demonstrate documentation of their land rights.

However, in the past, conflicts over land often arose among farmers due to a lack of land documentation. The lack of documentation also limited Illovo’s ability to effectively engage with local growers, and contributed to uncertainty in their global sugarcane supply chain.

USAID and Illovo worked together to:

  • Map 1,849 parcels for growers and local landholders in three areas surrounding the Maragra Estate through a participatory approach;
  • Deliver cooperative-issued certificates of documented land rights to 558 men and 1,084 women;
  • Facilitate the formal DUAT registration process for these 1,642 landholders; and
  • Develop a new grievance mechanism for Illovo to address land-related and other concerns among local community members and growers.

These activities were designed with the dual purpose of strengthening local tenure security, and informing and complementing Illovo’s efforts to verify and respect legitimate land rights in areas where they operate according to the Illovo Group Guidelines on Land.9

The project was also designed to align with and support the Government of Mozambique’s Terra Segura initiative, launched in 2015, which aims to register 5 million parcels and map the boundaries of 4,000 communities over a 5-year period. By testing a flexible, participatory process to map and record land rights, the project demonstrated an innovative method for engaging local governance systems that could help the Government achieve these ambitious goals.

The data that we’re producing with this project will update the database of our government […] With this project, we are going to demarcate this area and the final product will also be sent to the provincial database, so it will improve the situation […] in terms of land legalization because it’s a big challenge.

Xavier Lucas, a member of the project team, has worked with the Mozambican government on land issues since 2001 and has worked to raise awareness and teach communities about Mozambique’s Land Law.

Leveraging the innovative partnership, the project will ensure that local land rights are secure enough for Illovo to responsibly do business with the community, for individuals to invest in their own land and for the government to record and recognize boundaries. The participatory process is in line with Mozambique’s progressive land law and makes it possible for local government to more easily register formal DUATs. It also helps Illovo to verify ownership of land, without requiring the more costly formal titling process. Moreover, individuals who wish to continue the formal land registration process are closer to their goal of receiving a title.

9 See:

The Heroes

“One outcome I hope for is to see the communities protected from land grabbing. I also hope to see communities developed. Because they have land use rights certificates, they will have more financial opportunities. For example, if they want to go to banks and ask for loans, they can do that because they have land use rights. I also hope to see future generations having an opportunity to use the land that belonged to their ancestors.”

Emanuel Malai is working as a liaison for the project, to ensure that the local implementers follow its processes and guidelines and resolve conflicts as they arise. He also supports training and communication between Illovo and the enumerators who map, record and certify land rights and work with landholders directly.

Project enumerators. As a result of the project, 10 local enumerators were trained to educate and sensitize community members on the project’s activities. The enumerators work with the community to demarcate and register plots of land with equipment such as tablets and GPS devices.

Andrew Cochrane works with growers for Illovo and has noted that a wide range of stakeholders in Mozambique benefit from the project. The project provided certificates to individual landholders, whether they supply sugarcane or grow other crops, and supported local government stakeholders who are committed to the Government of Mozambique’s goal of certifying 5 million DUATs.

“It really is beneficial, not only to you as a company to have that peace of mind that the suppliers that are supplying to us are all coming from recognized land rights, but even to the community that we’re operating in, to encourage them to invest more in their land and the equality that comes with that around registering of male and female land rights as well as vulnerable people who might even lose their land rights in some other process.”

The Impact

Parcels mapped for 1,642 landowners
Formal DUATs facilitated
Land rights certificates issued to women
Land rights certificates issued to men
New grievance mechanism

Project outcomes show that helping landholders near investment areas map and register their land can be beneficial to investors, local communities, and host country governments.

From Illovo’s perspective, the project has contributed to the company’s efforts to:

  • Reduce land conflict between Illovo, local communities and growers;
  • Accurately estimate cane supply from growers;
  • Obtain information on areas surrounding the Maragra Estate necessary for sustainable land use planning;
  • Develop a new grievance mechanism to address land-related and other concerns among local community members and growers, which can be adapted for use across its six facilities in sub-Saharan Africa;
  • Operationalize the Illovo Group Guidelines on Land; and
  • Increase the understanding of, and ability to mitigate, land tenure risk among Illovo’s operational staff.

“The first thing that came to mind when I was approached about the project was, ‘I was really waiting for a project like this…The project is helping many people who were feeling that no one was looking [out] for them, no one could protect them. But they feel like they are protected now, they are safeguarded.”

Lurdes Armando Matlula is a female farmer living on and cultivating land surrounding the Maragra Sugar Estate. As a result of the Responsible Investment Project, Matlula established the boundaries of her land. Over 65 percent of project beneficiaries were women, and the project helped over 1,050 women map and document their land. Women’s land rights are strengthened with documentation which can increase their ability to be resilient and self-sufficient. It also can enhance women’s opportunities for social and economic empowerment.

For local communities, participation in the project was an opportunity to:

  • Obtain community-validated land documentation;
  • Secure their land for future generations, particularly among women;
  • Protect land from encroachment and outside investors; and
  • Increase economic opportunities, such as contracting with Illovo to sell cane, growing other agricultural products, and obtaining credit.

We now feel that with DUAT we will have all the doors open for us and the opportunity to engage with more companies and partners.”

Female, Central Pilot Area

We will now feel confident to enter business agreements because our land is not under risk, if we have a document, we feel that we have power to engage and participate fully and fairly.”

Male, Central Pilot Area

The Implications

Through project activities, USAID and our partners are using innovative solutions to build communities’ self-reliance, make private sector investment more sustainable and strengthen land governance in Mozambique.


This project demonstrates how USAID extends its traditional development approach by working hand-in-hand with the private sector to achieve shared goals of strengthening property rights for all, especially women. This reduces men and women’s vulnerability to a variety of risks and advances economic opportunities and local resilience. At the same time, it demonstrates the value of addressing land issues to companies’ bottom line and long-term sustainability.

For Private Sector Partners

Partnerships like this help Illovo meet its human rights commitments, strengthen its supply chain and avoid the potential operational, financial or reputational costs of land disputes or other land-related issues. The outcomes of the project highlight the importance of participatory mapping and documentation activities to: increase the success and sustainability of land-based investments; increase opportunities for local communities to engage with the private sector in ways that are mutually beneficial; and help support government land administration initiatives. In addition, with a new grievance mechanism in place, Illovo, its cane suppliers and neighbors now have a way to air and address issues or complaints that helps build trust among all stakeholders.

The private sector need not forgo investments in emerging markets because of risks associated with weak land tenure systems. Guidelines and implementing tools can help corporate actors navigate riskier climates. Investors and corporations can partner with communities to strengthen land rights, even in the absence of national government partnership, as a first step toward creating sustainable and mutually beneficial long-term investments.

“As far as the public-private partnership, it’s given us access to expertise that’s been so incredibly valuable because we’re not land experts, we’re not community and social experts, we make sugar. And it’s been so valuable to be able to get this expertise to help guide us through the process that we would have stumbled at.”

Kate Mathias, Illovo Sugar Africa Ltd. Development Consultant

For Government Partners

Partnerships like this can help nations like Mozambique improve their land rights and governance environment, protect citizens, and fulfill commitments. In this case, the project has helped to demonstrate a scalable and participatory method to map, record and administer land rights and strengthen tenure security, which may serve as an additional option to help the Government of Mozambique meet its ambitious goals under the Terra Segura initiative.

“Certainly with our local government participants/stakeholders, we are also saying that we see this process as something that is supporting what the government is doing. The government has this priority of wanting to issue 5 million DUATs to Mozambican citizens, so we see that this is actually a support role to what government is doing.”

Andrew Cochrane, Illovo Sugar Africa Ltd. Project Manager