The Political Economy of Land Grabs and Land Reforms in Malawi

Research team: Henry Chingaipe, Micheal Chasukwa, Blessings Chinsinga and Ephraim Chirwa

Chancellor College, University of Malawi

The major concern is a spate of land grabs by foreign interests mediated by the state machinery but in the absence of a definitive legal framework. For instance, the Government of Djibouti signed a deal in 2009 with the Government of Malawi for 55,000 hectare concession of irrigated land farmland. The Government of Malawi is implementing a bio-fuel project that involves two farmers per constituency growing jatropha with funding from USAID. The UK farmland fund Investment Management has acquired a 2,000 hectare estate to produce paprika and other crops for export to Europe. Lonhro, also a UK based firm, is negotiating a deal of tens of thousands of hectares of bordering Lake Malawi where it intends to grow rice under the Green Belt initiative alongside other companies mostly from India and China. Mining companies, notably, the Australian based Paladin Africa, have been given enormous hectares of land dispossessing hundreds of small farmers of their land. The paradox is that it is not land owned by elites, most of it which lies idle, that is the target of the massive transnational land grabs but that owned by smallholder farmers who are already grappling with serious land shortages.

The purpose of this research project will therefore be to systematically document the processes of the massive transitional land grabs from a political economy perspective. Key questions will include who are the key actors? What are their interests? What are the key discourses and the counter discourses? Who are the winners and losers? How are the affected communities engaging with these processes? What are the short and long-term impacts of these land deals on the whole agrarian question in Malawi? This research project is of particular interest for two main reasons. First, the land grabs are taking place against the backdrop of virtual impasse in the land reforms meant to correct chronic imbalances in land tenure and ownership patterns that left a vast majority of smallholder farmers almost landless. Second, the land grabs have coincided with the onset of Malawi’s green revolution powered by the fertilizer subsidy programme. This raises the question about the potential sustainability of a green revolution led by small farmers especially since their land is the primary target of the transnational land deals.