Exploring the politics of land reforms in Malawi: a case study of the Community Based Rural Land Development Programme (CBRLDP)

Exploring the politics of land reforms in Malawi: a case study of the Community Based Rural Land Development Programme (CBRLDP)

An exploration of the politics of land underlying the CBRLDP initiatives, particularly in terms of who is involved, their interests and the overall institutional context within which the initiative is being executed.

Land remains the most significant productive asset for the majority of Malawians, yet it is far from being equitably distributed. It is estimated that up to 84 per cent of Malawians eke their livelihoods directly out of agriculture which contributes over 90 per cent to the country’s export earnings, about 39 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and accounts for 85 per cent of total employment. The importance of agriculture in the country’s economy is actually increasing instead of diminishing following the devastating effects that the structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) have had on the manufacturing sector.

The main argument of this paper is that the experiences of the CBRLDP are unlikely to provide valuable lessons to aid the scale-up of the model across the country, because of the critical disjuncture between the neoliberal drive guiding the reforms and the popular perception of how land redistribution should actually proceed in communities with excess land.The outcomes, successes, and failures of the CBRLDP have been further driven, influenced, and shaped by political processes resulting from the interaction and contestation of diverse stakeholders involved with the CBRLDP, and endowed with differing forms and varying degrees of power, authority and influence. The major lesson from the CBRLDP implementation experiences is that the design, reform, and implementation of pro-poor institutional arrangements are not merely a technical or managerial matter, but a profoundly political exercise. This is underlined by the sheer determination of stakeholders engaged with the CBRLDP to shift the burden of the reforms elsewhere as they jostle to get the most of the evolving institutional arrangements governing land ownership and use.

The author concludes that t is very clear that the current pattern of land ownership is skewed in favour of a small minority who accumulated vast tracts of land under the auspices of the colonial and postcolonial legislative instruments. The vast majority of people were disenfranchised of ownership of their land, and for a period of nearly four decades no substantive efforts have been undertaken to redress these historical inequities. The paradox is that much of this land is either idle or grossly underutilised.

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