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Community / Land projects / Transforming matrilineal land rights? Agricultural intensification and land regularization in Northern Mozambique

Transforming matrilineal land rights? Agricultural intensification and land regularization in Northern Mozambique


12/23 - 01/21


This project is part of

Today, the majority of Africa's poor people live in rural areas and depend on the availability of land for their agricultural production and livelihoods, making secure land rights a very central issue. Secure rights to land, i.e. that individuals know with certainty which resources they control and in which way they can be used, are crucial for people's livelihood. To protect the needs of rural populations, several African countries have introduced new legislation to give local communities formal rights to their land, usually in the form of individual rights. In 1997, Mozambique introduced a new land law that had been adapted to the principles of community-based land administration. The new law states that land rights must be formalized at the local community level, as a collective entity, and that the responsibility for distributing individual land rights to households is decentralized to the local community itself, which is usually done according to local norms and traditions. Several studies have shown that when land rights are formalized according to local traditions, this tends to result in the land being registered to the head of the household, who is usually the man. Many studies indicate that women's land rights are weakened through registration, which is why women's insecure land rights are highlighted as a central development problem in African policy documents. Many countries' land reforms try to introduce systems to secure women's right to land. However, these reforms usually assume that the systems within which individuals gain access to land are what is called patrilineal, i.e. that the right to the land is transferred from father to son. But in northern Mozambique there are large areas where the land is traditionally passed down between generations through the mother's family line, so-called matrilineal systems.Strongly linked to the issue of individual ownership or individual control over land formalized through a certificate is the idea that this certificate can be used as collateral to take out loans so that the farmer can use this to make investments in his land and in inputs to increase the yield in their agriculture, which is expected to lead to increased production for both improved food security and to be able to sell their surplus in the market and earn income. This is central to many countries' policies to reduce rural poverty and undernourishment. In our project, we examine how new initiatives to formalize individual land rights, in areas where at the same time efforts are being made to increase the intensification of land use to increase agricultural yields, affect the traditionally based the land ecosystems within matrilineal societies. What happens to the land rights women have traditionally gained access to through their mothers in connection with land rights being formalized at the individual or household level? Will the land be gradually formalized in the men's names, or in the husband and wife's names, which would mean a transfer of rights from women's to men's family lines? In order to investigate these complex issues, we have selected three local communities that are characterized by different conditions regarding the formalization of individual land rights. We will collect information mainly through interviews with various actors in these local communities. Partly with administrative staff at different levels in society, and partly with different actors at the local level: local community residents and leaders, as well as with organizations involved in the implementation of the reforms. Our study also involves the participation of local actors in walks and mapping that is done in the areas. An important aspect of our design of the study is to repeatedly feed back to various actors who are part of the study to inform and give feedback on what we arrive at. It is important that results from studies of this type can be used and perhaps influence how development policy is implemented in practice.