Malawi is losing $50 million (K36.5 billion) annually to estate leases irregularities, according to a World Bank (WB) report. The loss is almost five percent of Malawi’s public expenditure.
According to the report released recently, titled Gender-Differentiated Impacts of Tenure Insecurity on Agricultural Performance in Malawi’s Customary Tenure Systems by the Research Development Group of the WB, data from digitising estate leases suggest that legal uncertainty created by the expiration of most leases and failure to collect realistic lease fees lead to large loss of public revenue.
The report says 40 percent of the area registered under agricultural estates is non-existent or unsuitable for agriculture, leasing the remainder at the median rent of $53 (K38 000) per hectare (ha) per year which could generate annual income of some $50 million (K36.5 billion).
The report also found that beyond failing to live up to expectations in terms of productive development, estate development does not seem to have reduced tenure insecurity, with 22 percent of farmers concerned about losing their land and 21 percent fearing encroachment.
Tenure refers to the status of individuals or groups in relationship to property. Land tenure security, on the other hand, refers to the right of individuals and groups of people to effective protection by the government against forcible evictions.
“Descriptively, we find that, although estates occupy more than 20 percent of Malawi’s agricultural area, a large part of their land is left unutilised and, for most crops, their productivity remains well below that of smallholders
“In principle, comparing the present value of productivity gains due to programme-induced reductions in tenure insecurity to programme costs would allow to decide if systematic regularisation can economically justify an alternative to demand-driven estate development,” reads the report in part.
The bank has since called for carefully designed and evaluated pilots that pay particular attention to women’s rights and overlap with estate leases could help not only to deal with the issue of estate lease renewal, but also inform implementation of recently adopted land bills.
Land and legal expert Chikosa Silungwe who was involved in drafting the land-related bills is on record having said that there are a number of issues that remain such as the issue of joint titling for spouses which has been raised by the women lobby.
Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development officials were not readily available to comment on the report.
But in a previous interview, Minister of Lands Atupele Muluzi acknowledged the controversy the land law issue has created, but fell short of pointing out specific steps government will take to address the concerns raised. n