This case study is part of a series highlighting how USAID is partnering with the private sector and local communities to strengthen land tenure and resource governance.

The series demonstrates that bolstering local land rights and incorporating smallholder farmers into supply chains can be good for both business and communities. For companies, it can reduce operational, financial and reputational risks, as well as improve production, environmental and social sustainability, and farmer loyalty. For local farmers, it can incentivize investments into land, help secure a buyer(s) for crops, ensure a more reliable source of income, and increase access to finance. In sum, it can promote economic growth and build local resilience.

The USAID partnership with Illovo Sugar Africa (pty) Ltd. (Illovo), a multinational agricultural commodity producer and Africa’s biggest sugar producer, helped the company’s Maragra Sugar Estate in Mozambique 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 of agricultural land near Maragra and the development of a local grievance mechanism for Illovo to address land-related and other concerns among local community members and growers.

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 de Uso e Aproveitamento de Terra. A DUAT can be attributed to people by the state, and documented with an official title. A DUAT can also simply be acquired by communities and individuals through their good faith or customary occupation of land, in which case the right exists even without formal documentation. 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.

A man harvests sugarcane in his fields. 

Credit: Sandra Coburn.
A man harvests sugarcane in his fields. Credit: Sandra Coburn.

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, the process is cumbersome, time-consuming and prohibitively costly for many. The national program, Terra Segura, was initiated in 2015 with a target of 5 million DUAT titles; so far, it has produced just over 1 million titles. The process involves high application fees and time and resources to travel 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 Technical problems mean that some provincial governments, such as in Zambezia, have been unable to produce titles for more than two years. 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 investors’ objectives, including costly delays, work stoppages, protests and even violence. Investors can also face supply chain risk, legal actions and suffer financial 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 LANDac. 2016. Food Security and Land Governance Factsheet: Mozambique. Accessed from

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

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

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

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

8 First, through the Responsible Land Investment Project and then through the Integrated Land and Resource Governance Programme.

The Innovation

Illovo Sugar Africa Ltd., a multinational agricultural commodity producer, collaborated with USAID in a partnership to develop and test new approaches to improve local tenure security in areas surrounding Illovo’s 6,500 hectare Maragra Sugar Estate in Mozambique to mitigate operational, financial and reputational risks.

At the same time, securing land tenure among communities can foster resilience and increase opportunities for social and economic empowerment.

Responsible Land-based Invesment Pilot in Mozambique. Credit: Sandra Coburn

The Maragra Sugar 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.

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.

Between 2017 and 2020, USAID and Illovo worked together to:

  • Map 2,917 parcels for growers and local landholders in six areas surrounding the Maragra Estate through a participatory approach;
  • Deliver cooperative-issued certificates of documented land rights to 2,116 distinct title holders, 762 men and 1,354 women;
  • Facilitate the formal DUAT registration process for these 2,116 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. Illovo helped local communities delimit their land in collaboration with sugar growers’ cooperatives, which then produced Declarations of Land Rights, certifying their land use rights over the parcel. These declarations subsequently formed the basis upon which cooperative members contracted with Illovo to supply sugar.

The partnership 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 USAID’s flexible, participatory process to map and record land rights, known as Mobile Applications to Secure Tenure (MAST), the partnership demonstrated an innovative method for engaging local governance systems that could help the Government achieve these ambitious goals.

Xavier Lucas. Credit: John Dwyer.

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.

This innovative partnership ensured that local land rights were 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 MAST process made it possible for local governments to more easily register formal DUATs. It also helped Illovo to verify ownership of land, without requiring the more costly formal titling process. Moreover, individuals who wanted to continue the formal land registration process were closer to their goal of receiving a land title.

9 See:

The Champions

Emmanuel Malai. Credit: John Dwyer.

“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. I also hope to see future generations having an opportunity to use the land that belonged to their ancestors.”

Emanuel Malai worked as a field team supervisor, supporting the teams carrying out delimitation to ensure that the local implementers followed the agreed-upon processes and guidelines and resolved conflicts as they arose. He also supported training and communication between Illovo and the enumerators who mapped, recorded and certified land rights and worked with landholders directly.

Local enumerators Cacilda Xerinda, Carlos Mujovo, Armando Zuana Jr. and Raquel Xavier Ambasse document community boundaries. Credit: Sandra Coburn.

Local enumerators. Fifteen local enumerators were trained to educate and sensitize community members on the partnership’s activities. The enumerators work with farmers to demarcate and register plots of land using USAID’s Mobile Applications to Secure Tenure (MAST) with equipment such as tablets and GPS devices.

Andrew Cochrane is the Group Head of Grower Agriculture for Illovo Sugar Africa Ltd. Andrew has noted that a wide range of stakeholders in Mozambique benefitted from the partnership. The partnership provided certificates to individual landholders, whether they supplied sugarcane to Illovo or grew 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 male and female land rights as well as vulnerable people who might even lose their land rights in some other process.”

Andrew Cochrane. Credit: Sandra Coburn

The Impact

Parcels mapped for 2,116 landowners
Land rights certificates issued to women
Land rights certificates issued to men
New grievance mechanism

The partnership’s 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 partnership 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.

Three years after the final documentation process, the company and farmers are seeing lasting benefits. For Illovo, working with farmers whose land rights are documented has decreased supply chain risks and mitigated land use conflicts with local communities. The company has found the land certificates produced through the partnership to be a helpful alternative for local farmers who have had trouble obtaining DUAT titles from the government. According to Paulo Silveira, Illovo’s Director of Agriculture for the Maragra Estate, “When we are signing contracts with cane suppliers, we need some evidence that the person has rights to use the land. The small-scale farmers can have a hard time getting this documentation. The land declarations issued under the project make us more comfortable that the farmer actually has rights to the land. The declarations are more formal, they show details of the farmer and witnesses, and a map with the location of the field.” The partnership has thus helped Illovo expand its supply base around the Maragra Estate, and improved relations with the local communities, who are grateful for the company’s help in documenting their DUAT rights.

Lurdes Armando Matlula. Credit: Sandra Coburn.

“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 USAID-Illovo partnership, Matlula established the boundaries of her land. Over 63 percent of certificate holders are women: the partnership helped over 1,354 women map and document their land. With more secure land rights women can increase their resilience and become more 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.

Farmers noted that the inclusive mapping process and issuance of land rights certificates significantly reduced threats to their land claims. Previously, many people had their land sold to third parties due to informal land tenure arrangements. This threat has diminished because now people have documents to prove their rights to the land. “The project was intended to improve people’s security of tenure, and it worked,” said Gregório Xerinda, Illovo farmer, secretary of Hluvukani Cooperative and member of ASSAM farmer association. “No one had papers, anyone else could show up and claim their land. Now people have papers, local authorities know that they have registered their land. This really improves our tenure security. There is a lot less conflict compared to before the project.” As a result, many nearby farmers are now eager to register their DUAT rights.

Margarida Dimande shows off her newly delimited plot, for which she received documentation under the USAID-Illovo partnership. Credit: Sandra Coburn.

My field is 3.44 hectares. I have owned it since 1997 but only from this project did I get my documentation. At one point, someone went into my field and tried to steal over a hectare, so I had to really fight them. Eventually they gave up and went away. Since the mapping, I haven’t had any more problems. Before, there were a lot of conflicts, but now it’s quiet, everyone can do whatever they want on their land.

Margarida Dimande, Illovo farmer, vice president of Hluvukani Cooperative and president of Eduardo Mondlane Cooperative

Farmers continue to report that the land certificates they received through the project have been used to sign farming contracts with Maragra Sugar Estate. The certificates have even helped expand financial inclusion in the area. According to Jose Catarino, Illovo farmer and president of Hluvukani Cooperative and ASSAM growers association, “The document is really useful because I can show it to anyone, government or even if I’m asking for a loan, to prove that I have a field of X hectares in exactly this location.”

Mapping with the cooperative and Maragra was really important. Maragra buys our cane from those fields. Before, we couldn’t sell to them; now that we have the Declarations, we show Maragra so that they are sure that we are the actual owners and we can sign a contract. I was able to put in my cane, even as an old lady, I planted and was successful. I bought a car with the money.

Margarida Dimande, Illovo farmer, vice president of Hluvukani Cooperative and president of Eduardo Mondlane Cooperative

The Implications

Through partnership activities, USAID and Illovo used innovative solutions to build communities’ self-reliance, make private sector investment more sustainable and strengthen land governance in Mozambique.


Local enumerator Cacilda Xerinda shows a community member her name on the parcel registry. Credit: Sandra Coburn.

This partnership demonstrated 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 reduced men and women’s vulnerability to a variety of risks and advanced economic opportunities and local resilience. At the same time, it demonstrated 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 and social safeguard 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 partnership 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.

For Government Partners

Local enumerator Armando Zuana Jr. shows a community member where her parcel is on the community boundary map produced under the USAID-Illovo partnership. Credit: Sandra Coburn.

Partnerships like this can help nations like Mozambique improve their land rights and governance environment, protect citizens, and fulfill commitments. In this case, the USAID-Illovo partnership 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. Group Head of Grower Agriculture

For Communities

Building partnerships with private sector companies can help communities secure their land use rights. By working directly with the private sector, communities can clarify informal tenure arrangements and protect their land from encroachment by outside investors. This additional security incentivizes them to make investments in their plots. Farmers can use these land rights documents to help negotiate farming contracts with private sector firms, who – like Illovo – may be more likely to work with farmers with land documentation.