Customary Land Tenure, Inheritance Rules, and Smallholder Farmers in Malawi

Discussion Papers


by TAKANE Tsutomu

May 2007


Based on information derived from six villages in various parts of rural Malawi, this paper examines the interrelationship between smallholder strategies to obtain land on the one hand, and customary land tenure and inheritance rules on the other. The paper revealed that although the majority of land transactions followed customary land tenure systems and inheritance rules, in a good number of cases land transactions deviated from the basic rules. One factor behind such deviation was the unique personal relationships that were developed between original landholders and heirs. Another factor was the seemingly increasing cases of returning wives in patrilineal villages. Still another factor was the intensifying land scarcity that encouraged villagers to adopt strategies to obtain land from any source by any means. On the other hand, there were also some cases in which the same land-scarcity problem induced villagers to countercheck the practice of flexible land transfer to prevent their lineage land from being alienated to non-kin members. These facts suggest that, in a land scarce situation, an individual strategy to obtain land rights from any possible sources by deviating from customary rules may occasionally be in conflict with a lineage strategy to countercheck such tendency.

Keywords: Land, Smallholder, Customary Tenure, Malawi, Africa

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