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Apr 26, 2012

IRIN - In Malawi Lack of Land Reform Creates Hardships for Small Farmers

Photo: UCLA International Institute
On 26 April 2012 IRIN published an article on the lack of land reform in Malawi.  This documents the plight of small farmers who have traditionally not held title to the land but instead have been granted customary user rights.  This article provides examples of how these people have had their right to use the land revoked by local chiefs while at the same time, foreign ownership is increasing and land titles are being granted to large-scale farms.  

According to traditional land usage, approximately 60 percent of land in Malawi has been customary.  This means it is untitled and administered for the government by the national government.  Local communities have traditionally had user rights.  This has been changing as the population increases and the government sells the lands to new owners.

In 2002, when Malawi began the transition to democracy, it set up a new land policy, which stated it would provide small landholders with tenure.  The process was suppose to allow small farmers to register customary land as private property.  Legislative authority was needed to implement these policies and it was not passed.  

President Bingu wa Mutharika focused public investment on boosting the productivity of smallholder farmers through a farm input subsidy program. Funding for this program has been cut with the ongoing financial crisis.  

In 2010, the non-governmental organization (NGO) Grain reported on the sale of large tracts of land to foreign governments and corporations. This questioned some of the government's Green Belt Initiative (GBI) project.  Details include:
  • the 2009 sale of 50,000 hectares of farmland to the government of Djibouti, reportedly in exchange for assistance constructing an inland port in Nsanje. 
  • GBI targets the acquisition of 340,000 hectares of irrigable land along Lake Malawi and the banks of the Shire river.  The official goal is "increasing agricultural production and national food security." Who has title to this land and who will purchase it remains unclear. 
  • sale of lands in the Chikhwawa District to sugar plantations owned by South African sugar giant Illovo Sugar. 
  • sale of lands to Agricane, which leases land to Illovo Sugar
For more see: 

About Margaret


CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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