Human Ecology

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 1-19

First online:

Assessing Societal Benefits and Trade-Offs of Tobacco in the Miombo Woodlands of Malawi

  • Alois MandondoAffiliated withShanduko Trust, Centre for Agrarian and Environmental Studies
  • , Laura GermanAffiliated withUniversity of Georgia Email author 
  • , Henry UtilaAffiliated withForest Research Institute of Malawi
  • , Ustanzious Martin NthendaAffiliated withForest Research Institute of Malawi

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This study assesses the social, economic and environmental impacts and trade-offs of investment in tobacco in two districts in the Miombo woodlands of Malawi. Socioeconomic impacts were analyzed for stakeholder groups differentially affected by large-scale tobacco cultivation: those losing land to estates, those employed on estates, small-scale growers selling to the estates and small-scale wood suppliers. Tobacco growers emerge the biggest beneficiaries from the expansion of tobacco, with real returns among smallholders depending on the extent to which tobacco cultivation constricts or boosts other livelihood activities. Those losing land to tobacco estates are the major losers: efforts to recuperate their livelihoods prove less than adequate to offset the costs of land loss. Smallholder wood suppliers shared more or less the same outcome as employees in securing low returns, often inadequate for more than basic livelihood needs. The literature and fieldwork also document high rates of tobacco-induced deforestation from plantation expansion and unsustainable wood sourcing practices for tobacco drying and curing. Negative ecological externalities are born by local stakeholders and the public alike. We identify opportunities for leveraging more equitable and sustainable outcomes from land-based investments in forested landscapes.


Large-scale land acquisitions Tobacco Trade-offs Deforestation Malawi