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Land scarcity, resettlement and food security: Assessing the effect of voluntary resettlement on diet quality in Malawi

Abstract

Food insecurity persists globally, with lack of access to farmland among the main factors contributing to chronic undernourishment. Population resettlement to areas of low density presents a possible but controversial solution to land scarcity. This paper examines the case of Malawi’s Community Based Rural Land Development Project, a World Bank funded internal resettlement scheme for 15,000 participating households. Based on four months of fieldwork, including a survey of 200 households, 5 focus group discussions and 20 expert interviews, we assess how voluntary, internal, ‘rural to rural’ resettlement affects food security and nutrition through diet quality. Overall, we found that lack of wage labour opportunities and poor access to markets lowered food access (HDDS) among beneficiaries compared to non-beneficiaries (who did not participate in the resettlement scheme from the outset but were eligible), former beneficiaries (who had participated in scheme but had abandoned it by the time of the study), and national averages. Diet quality (IDDS) varied significantly according to resettlement location, as well as between beneficiaries and former-and non-beneficiaries, where overall, beneficiaries who were still living in their resettlement location at the time of the study had the lowest IDDS and therefore poorest diet quality. The regression results and the focus group discussions suggest that beyond access to infrastructure and markets, secure entitlements to training and farming inputs need to be sustained and improved in relocation areas to bring about positive food security outcomes for resettled populations.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Shack et al. (1990) find that resettlement in Papua New Guinea increased the diversity of nutrient intake through food purchases. Kinsey (1999) notes that there is a decrease in nutritional status amongst land reform children in Zimbabwe as they become more vulnerable to drought-related shocks. Santos et al. (2014) also suggest that the distribution of micro-plots to women in West Bengal is likely to be positive, if slow, due to improved land tenure, investments in agriculture and greater women’s involvement in farming.

  2. 2.

    The study used the South African Labour Force Survey from 2001 to 2004, and resettlements were ongoing beginning post-apartheid.

  3. 3.

    The resettlement sites surveyed for this research were chosen to represent a diverse set of Traditional Authorities, wherein some were remote and others were close to a main road in order to address the reported differences in infrastructure access. Beneficiary groups were randomly selected within classifications of remote and central areas, providing they fit a district of origin criteria that ensured diversity. Within chosen beneficiary groups, researchers skipped every two homes in order to randomly sample one third of the homes in the group.

  4. 4.

    All beneficiaries from Machinga and Mangochi included in this study were resettled internally (see Figure 1), and most were already living on or beside their ‘new’ land. In Machinga, 56 households were resettled within their Traditional Authority (TA) of origin, 10 moved to a new TA, and 1 response was illegible. In Mangochi, all but one household were resettled within their TA of origin. This reflects overall trends within the programme.

  5. 5.

    We conducted the HDDS at the household level and used the values to calculate scores at both the household and individual level. Respondents were asked what they ate in the last 24 h, and the food categorized within sixteen food groups and marked with a 1 (consumed) or 0 (not consumed). In order to analyze the HDDS, the scores were regrouped in order to form a score out of twelve food groups rather than sixteen food items. Food groups, rather than individual foods, are used in the calculation they serve as a better indicator of the quality of diet in terms of macro and micronutrients (foods of the same category provide similar nutrients) (Swindale & Bilinsky, 2005). Individual scores (IDDS) were regrouped to form a score out of 9, where categories such as beverages and sweets were not included. There were no cut-off scores for the HDDS or IDDS; rather they are used comparatively to see which groups are better off than others, either over all or by specific category (see Kennedy et al., 2011).

  6. 6.

    The Project Implementation Manual did highlight the possible conflicts that could occur when ‘outsiders’ move in to a new community and noted that inter-district migration should occur as infrequently as possible in order to reduce incidences of such conflict (Government of Malawi, 2005).

  7. 7.

    Size of household is omitted from this model due to collinearity.

  8. 8.

    Three ordinal logit regressions were performed on a categorical IDDS, where 0-3 was low diversity, 4-5 was medium, and 6-9 was high. However, there was insufficient variety in IDD scores for these to provide results with high enough probabilities to make conclusions.

  9. 9.

    Reasons for this are outside the scope of our study and would require further analysis.

  10. 10.

    Training should also receive some attention.

  11. 11.

    This outcome, however, cannot be attributed with certitude to the effects of resettlements given that there is no pre-settlement baseline data on the food security status of all households.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to extend our appreciation to the research team and colleagues in Malawi for their contributions, and the families who shared their experiences. We also thank Eric Leinberger for the resettlements map, as well as the reviewers for their thoughtful feedback.

Funding

This work was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplement, and The Bridge Program of The University of British Columbia

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Correspondence to Kelly Sharp.

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This research was approved by The University of British Columbia's Research Ethics Boards.

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The authors declared that they have no conflict of interest.

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Highlights

• Resettlement participants have lower HDDS, or access to food, than former and non-participants, which could reflect the remoteness of resettlement sites and lack of market access.

• Resettlement participants have lower IDDS, or diet quality, than former and non-participants, which could result from lower access to diverse food sources and limited ability to produce a wide range of foods for self-consumption.

• Access infrastructure, markets and farming inputs affect food security in voluntary resettlement schemes

• Voluntary resettlement schemes should account for changes in household income generation options and market access for both selling and buying food.

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Sharp, K., Zerriffi, H. & Le Billon, P. Land scarcity, resettlement and food security: Assessing the effect of voluntary resettlement on diet quality in Malawi. Food Sec. 12, 191–205 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-019-00979-y

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Keywords

  • Food security
  • Nutrition
  • Diet quality
  • Land reform
  • Resettlement
  • Community-driven development