Exploring An Ingrower/ Outgrower Model with Grupo Madal in Zambezia, Mozambique: Activities, Results & Lessons Learned


To protect its territories from other colonial powers in the aftermath of the Berlin Conference, the Portuguese government decided to lease two-thirds of Mozambique to foreign companies, while keeping control over the remaining area comprising the south of the Save river (currently Inhambane, Gaza and Maputo provinces). One of these companies was the French-owned Société du Madal, which was founded over 100 years ago. Over time, it acquired the rights to over 30,000 hectares in several coastal districts of Mozambique’s northern province of Zambezia.

The company grew coconut as the principal crop on most of this land, using a model of large-scale estate production with hundreds of workers. The company gradually transformed local land tenure to fit the tenet of copra production. Local inhabitants secured their livelihoods either through ownership of palm trees (they planted or purchased from other holders) or through seasonal labor working for Madal. Households grew food crops only in a limited fashion, and subsistence agriculture was never more than a supplement to income generated through coconut production and trade and wage labor.

Through the expansion of the original prazo1 allocation from the Portuguese state, Madal gradually became one of the largest coconut producers in the world by the 1960s. The company used a system of coastal shipping to move its product from small private ports up and down the Zambezia coast to Quelimane, where it processed the coconut for export around the world. Key products included copra (the dried meat), coconut oil pressed from the copra, and coir (the fibrous outside part of the husk).

By the 2000s, the company was in decline. One of the major blows was from the lethal yellowing disease, which killed tens of thousands of hybrid coconut trees that the company had planted with the intent of renewing its base. Gradually, large areas of the company’s land lost productivity and eventually were largely fallow.

At the same time, the growing population and a lack of available farmland led thousands of people, mostly women, to start to informally grow their own crops on unused areas of many of the company’s farms. By 2021, Madal estimated that over 50,000 people were informally using company land. Those using the land know that Madal holds the rights to the farms, so while they have grown crops for their own use, they have not built permanent structures.

The company was purchased by new owners in 2016. The new Madal management took a strategic decision to shift away from a model reliant entirely on estate-based production, to a more inclusive business model that is designed to intentionally integrate and benefit neighboring communities, including aggregation and resale of commodities produced by local farmers. One of the most innovative features of the new approach is to recognize and respond to the land hunger of those who were informally using company land. Rather than trying to forcibly remove these smallholders, Madal designed an approach to bring them into the system. This combines three elements:

  • Core estate production: crop production by the company on some central areas of its farms, as well as use of company land for test plots and experimentation;
  • Outgrowers: Madal contracting members of neighboring communities to grow crops on their own land, which they sell to Madal; and
  • Ingrowers: Madal introduced an innovative approach designed to turn thousands of people who were informally using company land into formally accepted farmers, called “ingrowers” because they worked within the company farms. This is a modified version of the outgrower scheme, Madal agreed that many families who noted that they had insufficient land of their own, especially women-headed households, could use some company land based on long-term contracts to grow food and cash crops that the company would purchase.

This combination of outgrowers with the innovation of “ingrowers” was designed to enable community members to have reliable sources of food and income in ways that provide a reliable supply of commodities for Madal.

Documentation of land rights is a foundational activity underpinning improvements in agricultural productivity. Under Mozambican law, land belongs to the state, but communities and citizens may acquire the right to use and improve land in perpetuity. The Land Law notes that these rights are valid even if not documented or registered. However, the lack of documentation combined with the fact that few citizens understand their rights can leave communities in vulnerable situations. In many cases, people or companies, both Mozambican and foreign, have been able to take over land in ways that have prejudiced the community.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) project’s approach to land rights fits well community desires to confirm their own rights, and with Madal’s interest in working with communities to make more productive use of both community and company land. The approach starts by training community members, including elected leadership of land associations, in people’s rights based on the land law. This is followed by documentation of community boundaries, and then by documentation of individual parcels of land that have been allocated to families or for communal uses, such as sacred forests. In the context of Madal, this process also served to clearly and publicly confirm which land was controlled by which community and which land was controlled by the company. Within the company land, it identified parcels farmed by ‘ingrowers.’ This clarity provides a basis for subsequent agricultural development work within the community areas and on the Madal farms.

Based on this, ILRG developed what became a series of activities with Madal and 19 communities that are adjacent to the company’s farms in rural areas of Quelimane District. These included documentation of the overall boundaries of the 19 neighboring communities and of Madal farms; clarification of land rights already allocated to community members; delimitation of parcels for ‘ingrowers;’ and development of a new gender-sensitive extension system through which Madal would provide technical support to smallholders with ingrower and outgrower contracts. The approach is applicable to Madal’s broader estate, as well as other companies that have large landholdings and that wish to improve relationships with communities encroaching on company lands.

This final report provides a summary of activities, results and lessons learned.