Access to land, growth and poverty reduction in Malawi | Land Portal

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Date of publication: 
janvier 2004
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After four decades of agricultural-led development strategies in the postindependent Malawi, economic growth has been erratic and a large proportion of the population live below the poverty line and studies suggests that the poverty situation has worsened. Agricultural policies favoured large-scale (estate) production at the expense of smallholder farmers who account for more than 80 percent of households. Smallholder farmers face several constraints including landlessness and small land holdings and declining agricultural productivity.This study argues that past agricultural strategies have been less successful because they ignored the land question among smallholder farmers. Access to land via agricultural production is one of the important factors that can translate growth to poverty reduction. For agricultural based strategies to be pro-poor in Malawi, land redistribution or resettlement programme for the landless or near landless should be central and a pre-condition for the effectiveness of pro-poor growth strategies in agriculture. The econometric results of the study show that access to land reduces the probability of being poor; prevents the poor from falling into poverty; and helps the non-poor to remain non-poor. Since customary land is not marketable, the link between access to land and poverty is via the growth in agricultural production. Pro-poor growth strategies in agriculture are likely to be ineffective in reducing poverty unless land reform is taken as a basic precondition of other pro-poor agricultural strategies in the Malawian PRSP. Opportunities for land reforms, particularly those that can increase access to land for the landless or near landless, do exist with the resulting poor performance of estate agriculture. The problem of ethnicity in estate ownership is less relevant in Malawi, and some estates have been abandoned and other estate owners are offering their estates for sale. In addition, there is high willingness among smallholder farmers to participate in a community based rural land development programme. However, government has been slow in taking advantage of these opportunities due to resource constraints, the donor dependence of the land reform programme and the low priority accorded to land reform in the poverty reduction strategies. When funds do become available to implement a land redistribution programme it will be important to ensure that the process of beneficiary selection is clear and transparent, embracing the active participation of communities and that the programme need to place the whole rural development context into perspective both in the resettlement and emigration areas. Ensuring that land redistribution is accompanied by complementary policies (such as promotion of land use, extension services, easing the credit and capital constraints and basic infrastructure that is conducive to agricultural development) are also critical. Land reform is currently ranked a seventh strategy in the current MPRS, yet adequate land is a basic resource for any viable agricultural strategy. Arguably, agricultural based pro-poor strategies without addressing the question of access to land in Malawi will be as ineffective as they have been in the past four decades. The paper recommends that, as Malawi reviews her poverty reduction strategies, land reform should be the first ranked strategy for the agricultural sector to generate pro-poor growth. [adapted from author]

Auteurs et éditeurs

Author(s), editor(s), contributor(s): 

E.W. Chirwa


The Southern African Regional Poverty Network (SARPN) is a non-profit organisation that promotes debate and knowledge sharing on poverty reduction processes and experiences in Southern Africa. SARPN aims to contribute towards effective reduction of poverty in the countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) through creating platforms for effective pro-poor policy, strategy and practice. 

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eldis (ELDIS)

Eldis is an online information service providing free access to relevant, up-to-date and diverse research on international development issues. The database includes over 40,000 summaries and provides free links to full-text research and policy documents from over 8,000 publishers. Each document is selected by members of our editorial team.

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