Crop-based farming livelihoods and policies in Malawi


Research was conducted in 2001 using the sustainable rural livelihoods approach to look at the effects of macro policy events over the last 10-15 years on agriculturally based livelihoods in Central Malawi. Village level results indicated that most farming households have been adversely affected by input and market liberalisation policies. Most produce sufficient maize to supply household food needs for only 2-3 months of the year and employ a mixture of strategies in attempts to survive. Those with sufficient land and labour grow alternative food crops but many, and most of the poor, rely on piecework or ganyu, to carry them through these difficult periods. Though ganyu works as a survival mechanism it forces many poor farmers to neglect their own fields, at key times throughout the farming year, and thus its overall effect on farming-based livelihoods is negative. Better-off farmers appear more able to diversify within and away from farming to compensate for declining maize productivity. There are strong indications that farmers are likely to invest resources generated away from the farm in improved farming activities. There is huge farmer demand for advice on current and new crops and improved forms of management from the agricultural support services. The requirement for support has increased in recent years as most farmers cannot afford purchased inputs and so need alternative options for soil fertility management and pest control. They also need support in accessing inputs and advice for new crops.

Unfortunately the results suggest the agricultural support services have all but ceased to function over the last 10 years, leaving farmers, the poor in particular, stranded in these difficult times. The problems appear to be not so much with the detail of policy over the last 5-10 years but the lack of resources and institutional capacity for its implementation. The MPRSP hopes to address many of the constraints to farmers identified in this research. As with previous policy, success will depend not so much on the finer policy detail but on whether the resources, capacity and will are there to carry it through sufficiently for there to be an impact on agricultural development and rural poverty the ground.


McDonagh, J. Crop-based farming livelihoods and policies in Malawi. (2002) 26 pp. [LADDER Working Paper No.23]

Crop-based farming livelihoods and policies in Malawi

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