Malawian small farmers occupying the land under customary tenure have faced over 100 years of land alienation without compensation. The state during both the colonial and post-colonial periods regarded customary users as a residual group, to be mobilised for labour purposes or more generally limited to the low-input low-output production of staple food crops. This study reviews the evolution of these policies, and utilises the village livelihood studies undertaken by the LADDER research teams to examine the contemporary status of small farmers at the micro level. These show how far the material basis for production has shrunk and been degraded, the breaking down of social networks, and the reduction of social capital. The study examines the operation of certain non-state organisations in terms of their capacity to support livelihood and welfare outcomes, and concludes that the coverage of these is very limited. Notably they lack a sufficient formal articulation with the ongoing attempts to build up local government through the roll-out of decentralization.
The current proposals for fiscal and land reform are assessed in terms of their adequacy and relevance. These presuppose a large administrative competence and rational bureaucratic culture at District Assembly level, and do not deal adequately with the need for transparency and accountability. The 2002 land reform policy does offer some solid grounds for the restitution of formal legal rights to the customary sector; but its implementation requires the operation not only of a land market but also a political market, with dubious prospects for success. The short term measures proposed are unlikely to take place, and would have little effect if they did. In conclusion, consideration is given to the possible role of public-private partnerships by ethically grounded and professionally skilled intermediary organisations in support of the embattled rural poor.
Cross, S. Customary Land Tenure, Taxes and Service Delivery in Rural Malawi: A Review of Institutional Features of Rural Livelihoods. (2002) 39 pp. [LADDER Working Paper No.21]