Not everyone dealing with agricultural issues in Malawi appreciates the fact that smallholders in this country face challenges which are unique in Africa. No other country in Sub-Saharan Africa has population densities of up to 250 to the square km combined with a single rainy season of five months. The five areas with comparable population densities to those of Malawi have rain all the year or have two rainy seasons. Their smallholders can grow perennial food crops and, on a small piece of land, establish high value perennial cash crops such as tea, coffee and vanilla. On the other hand farmers living in areas with comparable rainfall to Malawi occupy comparatively thinly populated countries and so are able to grow larger areas of food crops to meet their needs and larger areas of low value annual cash crops such as cotton and legumes and so raise some cash for their family requirements. Many Malawian smallholders can adopt neither of these options. The overwhelming majority cannot grow coffee or tea because of inadequate rainfall and the limitations of small farm size means that they can only produce small amounts of any crop other than their basic staples. About 15% grow burley tobacco but that number cannot be increased as the crop is already over-produced. A further 10% raise cash from rice, groundnuts, maize and horticultural crops but the great majority have to allocate all of their land to producing food for the family and rely on low paid casual occupations to raise the cash that they need. It is for this reason that the majority of rural Malawians are classified as being below the poverty line. An appreciation of this situation can help in an understanding of the current state of smallholder farming in Malawi and it is hoped that these notes may cast a little more light on the plight of this country’s millions of small scale farmers and provide some indicators as to how best they can be helped.
Carr, S., Kool, H. (Ed.), & Giller, K. E. (Ed.) (2017). Surviving on half a hectare of land : an introduction to the Issues surrounding smallholder farming in Malawi. Wageningen: Wageningen University & Research. https://doi.org/10.18174/417831