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A case study on designing, piloting and scaling-up a land redistribution programme in Malawi1

Stephen Machira2

CBRLD Project Manager, Government of Malawi

Paper presented at - "Land Redistribution: Towards a Common Vision, Regional Course, Southern Africa, 9-13 July 2007"

SARPN acknowledges the World Bank as a source of this paper:
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Malawi being a largely agrarian economy, access to land has a direct impact on the livelihood and quality of life of the majority of Malawians, particularly those in the rural areas. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, Malawi is experiencing considerable inequality in land distribution. The most notable reason for this status quo is that in some areas huge amount of land have been transferred from customary tenure to leasehold, leaving many smallholder farmers with very little or no land at all to sustain their livelihood. This problem is more pronounced in districts such as Mulanje and Thyolo where vast land has been turned into tea estates, forcing smallholder farmers onto congested marginal lands.

The conversion of customary land into leasehold for burley tobacco production in the 1980s-early 1990s, created a similar problem to the rest of the country. To address the problem, the Government decided to develop a National Land Policy (NLP) that would guide equitable land distribution in the country.

The NLP was designed to achieve specific objectives. Among them are:

  • To ensure secure tenure and equitable access to land without any gender bias and/or discrimination to all citizens of Malawi, as stipulated under Article 28 of the Constitution;
  • To instil order and discipline into land allocation and land market transactions to curb encroachment, unapproved development, speculation and racketeering;
  • To ensure accountability and transparency in the administration of land matters, and guarantee that existing rights on land, especially customary rights of the small holders, are recognized, clarified, and ultimately protected by-law;
  • To facilitate efficient use of land under market conditions to ensure optimum benefits from land development;
  • To provide formal and orderly arrangements for granting titles and delivering land services in a modern and decentralized registration system that supports local governments throughout Malawi; and,
  • To promote community participation and public awareness at all levels to ensure environmentally sustainable land use practices, and good land stewardship.
Like other Southern Africa countries, Malawi inherited a rural settlement structure in which white farmers held some of the most fertile and well-watered lands. The effect of the concentration of freeholds in districts settled by the white farmers in the Southern Region and subsequent expansion of estate agriculture after independence resulted in small and fragmented landholding sizes and social tensions.

On the basis of estimates made in 1994, 2.6 million hectares of suitable agricultural land remains uncultivated in the rural areas. This means that approximately 28 percent of the country’s total land area is lying idle. As a result there is an urgent need to strategize on how to relieve land pressure in the severely affected parts of the country. In part the CBRLDP is meant to address this problem in Thyolo and Mulanje Districts.

Since independence in 1964, the Government of Malawi has undertaken resettlement of people for various reasons. For instance, the establishment of the Capital City in Lilongwe meant that some people had to be displaced and therefore resettled in the neighbouring districts. Also a number of agricultural resettlement schemes meant to spearhead agricultural development were initiated. In the recent past the Government bought some estates in a number of districts, including the four pilot districts for redistribution to the needy citizens.

The need to have an orderly land redistribution initiative to address the needs of many smallholder farmers was therefore identified as one of the major recommendations of the NLP. In designing the current project, lessons from earlier resettlement initiatives were taken into account.

  1. This paper has been prepared for the workshop “Land Redistribution in Africa: Towards a common vision.” The findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank and its affiliated organizations, or those of the Executive Directors of The World Bank or the governments they represent.
  2. Members of PMU and Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources made significant input into this paper.

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