Skip to main content

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


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  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.


  1. Bezner Kerr, R. (2012). Lessons from the old Green Revolution for the new: Social, environmental and nutritional issues for agricultural change in Africa. Prog. Dev. Stud., 12(2-3), 213–229.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bezner Kerr, R., & Chirwa, M. (2004). Participatory Research Approaches and Social Dynamics that Influence Agricultural Practices to Improve Child Nutrition in Malawi. EcoHealth, 1(S2), SU109–SU119.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bezner Kerr, R., Berti, P. R., & Shumba, L. (2010). Effects of a participatory agriculture and nutrition education project on child growth in northern Malawi. Public Health Nutr., 14(08), 1466–1472.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Bezner Kerr, R., Snapp, S., Shumba, L., & Msachi, R. (2007). Participatory research on legume diversification with Malawian smallholder farmers for improved human nutrition and soil fertility. Exp. Agric., 43(04), 437–453.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Chinsinga, B. (2011). The politics of land reforms in Malawi: the case of the Community Based Rural Land Development Programme (CBRLDP). J. Int. Dev., 23(3), 380–393.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Chirwa, E. W. (2008). Land Tenure, Farm Investments and Food Production in Malawi. IPPG Discussion Paper.

  7. Chirwa, E. W., & Matita, M. (2012). From Subsistence to Smallholder Commercial Farming in Malawi: A Case of NASFAM Commercialisation Initiatives. Future Agricultures, 1–21.

  8. Conelly, W. T., & Chaiken, M. S. (2000). Intensive farming, agro-diversity, and food security under conditions of extreme population pressure in western Kenya. Hum. Ecol., 28(1), 19–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Datar, G., Del Carpio, X., & Hoffmann, V. (2009). Can a market-assisted land redistribution program improve the lives of the poor? World Bank Policy Research Working Paper Series: Evidence from Malawi.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  10. de Soto, H. (2000). The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Dorward, A., & Chirwa, E. (2011). The Malawi agricultural input subsidy programme: 2005/06 to 2008/09. Int. J. Agric. Sustain., 9(1), 232–247.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. FAO Food Security Programme. (2008). An Introduction to the Basic Concepts of Food Security (pp. 1–3). FAO. Retrieved from

  13. FAO, IFAD, WFP. (2014). The State of Food Insecurity in the World (pp. 1–57). FAO.

  14. FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. (2017). The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017. Building resilience for peace and food security. FAO: Rome.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Freese, J., & Long, J. S. (2006). Regression models for categorical dependent variables using Stata (2nd ed.). StataCorp LP.

  16. Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS), FAO. (2015). GIEWS Country Briefs. FAO. Retrieved August 16, 2015, from

  17. Government of Malawi (GoM), Ministry of Lands, Housing and Surveys. (2005). Community-Based Rural Lands Development Project - Project Implementation Manual (pp. 1–58). Government of Malawi.

  18. Government of Malawi. (2010). Malawi State of Environment and Outlook Report. Environmental Affairs Department.

  19. Graeub, B. E., Chappell, M. J., Wittman, H., Ledermann, S., Kerr, R. B., & Gemmill-Herren, B. (2015). The State of Family Farms in the World. World Dev., 1–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. IFAD. (2011). Enabling poor rural people to overcome poverty in Malawi (pp. 1–12). International Fund for Agricultural Development.

  21. Kennedy, G., Ballard, T., & Dop, M. (2011). Guidelines for measuring household and individual dietary diversity (pp. 1–60). Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Kinsey, B. H. (1999). Land reform, growth and equity: emerging evidence from Zimbabwe's resettlement programme. J. South. Afr. Stud., 25(2), 173–196.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Koppmair, S., Kassie, M., & Qaim, M. (2016). Farm production, market access and dietary diversity in Malawi. Public Health Nutr., 20(2), 325–335.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  24. Leete, M., Damen, B., & Rossi, A. (2013). Malawi Bioenergy and Food Security Country Brief (pp. 1–11). Rome: FAO. Retrieved from

  25. Meerman, J. (2009). Making Nutrition a National Priority: Review of Policy Processes in Developing Countries and a Case-Study of Malawi (pp. 1–30). FAO.

  26. Mendola, M., & Simtowe, F. (2015). The Welfare Impact of Land Redistribution: Evidence from a Quasi-Experimental Initiative in Malawi. World Dev., 72(C), 53–69.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Mueller, V., Quisumbing, A., & Lee, H. L. (2014). Resettlement for Food Security's Sake: Insights from a Malawi Land Reform Project. Land Econ.

  28. Murendo, C., Nhau, B., Mazvimavi, K., Khanye, T., & Gwara, S. (2018). Nutrition education, farm production diversity, and commercialization on household and individual dietary diversity in Zimbabwe. Food Nutr. Res., 62, 1–12.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Place, F., & Otsuka, K. (2001). Population, tenure, and natural resource management: The case of customary land area in Malawi. J. Environ. Econ. Manag.

  30. PricewaterhouseCoopers. (2005). Community Based Rrural Land Development Project Independent Evaluation - Phase II Interim Report (pp. 1–53). Government of Malawi.

  31. Reynolds, L. (2000). Country Pasture and Forage Resource Profiles: Malawi.

  32. Ruel, M. T. (2002). Is Dietary Diversity an Indicator of Food Security or Dietary Quality? A Review of Measurement Issues and Research Needs. FCND Discussion Paper No. 14.

  33. Ruel, M. T. (2003). Operationalizing dietary diversity: a review of measurement issues and research priorities. J. Nutr., 133(11 Suppl 2), 3911S–3926S.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  34. Santos, F., Fletschner, D., Savath, V., & Peterman, A. (2014). Can government-allocated land contribute to food security? Intrahousehold analysis of West Bengal’s microplot allocation program. World Dev., 64, 860–872.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Sassi, M. (2012). Short-term determinants of malnutrition among children in Malawi. Food Security, 4(4), 593–606.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Sauer, J., & Tchale, H. (2009). The Economics of Soil Fertility Management in Malawi. Rev. Agric. Econ., 31(3), 535–560.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Savy, M., Martin-Prével, Y., Sawadogo, P., Kameli, Y., & Delpeuch, F. (2005). Use of variety/diversity scores for diet quality measurement: relation with nutritional status of women in a rural area in Burkina Faso. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr., 59(5), 703–716.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  38. Shack, K. W., Dewey, K. G., & Grivetti, L. E. (1990). Effects of resettlement on the dietary intakes of mothers and children in lowland Papua New Guinea. Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 24(1), 55–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Sharp, K., Le Billon, P., & Zerriffi, H. (2019). Land reforms and voluntary resettlement: household participation and attrition rates in Malawi. J. Peasant Stud., 46(5),  956–982.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Simtowe, F., Mendola, M., & Mangisoni, J. (2011). Independent Project Impact Evaluation of the Community Based Rural Land Development Project (CBRLDP) in Malawi (No. ontract Nr. 013/IPC/CB/ 09/10). Italtrend.

  41. Swindale, A., & Bilinsky, P. (2006). Household Dietary Diversity Score (HDDS) for Measurement of Household Food Access: Indicator Guide (pp. 1–15). Washington, DC: Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance Project (USAID).

  42. Tchale, H. (2009). The efficiency of smallholder agriculture in Malawi. African Journal of Agriculture and Resource Economics, 3(2), 101–121.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Thorne-Lyman, A. L., Valpiani, N., Sun, K., Semba, R. D., Klotz, C. L., Kraemer, K., et al. (2009). Household Dietary Diversity and Food Expenditures Are Closely Linked in Rural Bangladesh, Increasing the Risk of Malnutrition Due to the Financial Crisis. J. Nutr., 140(1), 182S–188S.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  44. Torheim, L. E., Ouattara, F., Diarra, M. M., Thiam, F. D., Barikmo, I., Hatløy, A., & Oshaug, A. (2004). Nutrient adequacy and dietary diversity in rural Mali: association and determinants. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr., 58(4), 594–604.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  45. The World Bank. (2015a). World Development Indicators. The World Bank. Retrieved October 7, 2015 from

  46. The World Bank (2015b). Population density. The World Bank. Retrieved June 15, 2015, from

  47. The World Bank. (2015c). Agricultural Development Programme Support Project SIL (FY08) (pp. 1–9). The World Bank. Retrieved from

  48. The World Bank IEG. (2013). Project Performance Assessment Report no. In 75556: Community-Based Rural Land Development Project. The World Bank Independent Evaluation: Group.

    Google Scholar 

  49. World Food Summit. (1996). Rome Declaration on World Food Security and World Food Summit Plan of Action.

  50. Valente, C. (2009). The Food (In)Security Impact of Land Redistribution in South Africa: Micro-econometric Evidence from National Data. World Dev., 37(9), 1540–1553.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Verduzco-Gallo, I., Ecker, O., & Pauw, K. (2014). Changes in Food and Nutrition Security in Malawi (No. 06) (pp. 1–39). International Food Policy Research Institute.

Download references


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.


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

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kelly Sharp.

Ethics declarations

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

Conflict of Interest

The authors declared that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information


• 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.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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).

Download citation


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