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Library Malawi's settlement schemes: rural towns that failed to take off

Malawi's settlement schemes: rural towns that failed to take off

Malawi's settlement schemes: rural towns that failed to take off

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Date of publication
December 2005
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In the late 1960s the Malawi government established irrigated settlement schemes throughout the country with the goal of promoting the production of rice for export to raise farmers' incomes. A supplementary objective was to promote the development of a sense of nationhood among people of different ethnic backgrounds settled on the schemes. The permanent settlement of people and their investment of surplus incomes in the local economy was envisaged to spur the growth of rural towns. The evidence shows that permanent settlement has been insignificant and the expected growth of rural towns has not materialized. The evidence indicates that returns from the small holdings that people were permitted to use on thescheme, combined with the low prices of a controlled price regime, were inadequate for investment in meaningful economic enterprises that would create employment and improve the local economy. The liberalisation of crop trading did not improve the situation. Even if it were possible to generate high enoughincomes, it is likely that such surplus would be reinvested in their home villages with which they retained very close links and which they appear to have a moral obligation, to develop. The evidence also shows that it was unrealistic to expect young people, even with low levels of education, to spend the rest of their lives as small scale farmers. They tended to save for a life outside agriculture, or leave the scheme when life in such remote locations became unbearable. It is unlikely that the goal of rural towns will ever be achieved especially now that the schemes are being turned over to communities, which are unlikely to use them as intensively as intended. The evidence from the three schemes suggests that the assumptions on which the schemes were established have not matched the reality.

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P. Kishindo

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Geographical focus