OVERVIEW: Soil and land degradation

Environmental Management Framework

Development and the Environment

Soil and Land



Water Resources

Biological Diversity

Human Habitat

Climate Change

Soil and land degradation

Soil erosion and declining land productivity continue to be the greatest environmental problem in Malawi. This is especially pronounced in densely settled areas that are heavily cultivated and where landlessness is a common socio-economic feature.

Land is traditionally the main and direct provider of livelihoods and economic production and the rapidly increasing population is the main cause of land degradation. The vast soil losses could however be significantly lowered if the traditional cropping patterns were replaced by an improved cropping system that incorporate complete physical conservation and land use plans set out in accordance with land husbandry recommendations.

The increased population has also led to intergenerational fragmentation of land holdings to levels where, at present, the dominant traditional management practices, cannot produce enough food for the households they are supporting. Cultivation has, subsequently, encroached into environmentally fragile areas like steep slopes, 'dambos' and stream banks, often with no conservation measures taken. Already by 1987 an estimated 48% of land was under cultivation, a percentage which exceeds the amount of available land suitable for rain-fed cultivation under unimproved traditional management. The situation is worse now.

Public lands, in wildlife reserves and other protected forest areas, are facing intense pressure from neighbouring villages. The recent land utilisation studies commissioned to establish the categorisation of land tenure in the customary, public and estate sectors, have provide preliminary information which suggests that some customary land areas are under-utilised and characterised by extensive idle lands. Further, the explosion in the number of estates due to the deregulation of the burley tobacco growing has had a significant impact on traditional customary tenure systems.

The government and its partner organisations have initiated several responses designed to meet the problems. These include: a new constitutional provisions, several legislative initiatives, and in particular, a land policy reform programme, community based natural resources management initiatives and the development of innovative soil conservation and soil fertility technologies suitable for Malawi.


  • it is recommended to introduce new high production and management technologies in order to raise productivity and people's incomes;
  • the use of modem soil and water conservation technologies must be enhanced, in order to reduce soil erosion, improve fertility, stabilise riverbanks and raise people's incomes;
due to the present lack of suitable data, it is recommended that effective monitoring should be undertaken to ascertain the adoption rates of the technologies, as well as accurate and location specific information on the pressure, state and response indicators of environmental degradation related to soil erosion and land degradation.

 Contents | Foreword  | Acknowlegdements | Editorial Process
Contributors | Preface | Acronyms  | Overview
Chapters: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | Appendix I
Lists: Maps | Figures | Tables | Boxes | References