The Journal of Modern African Studies

The Malawi 2002 food crisis: the rural development challenge 1

Andrew Dorward a1 and Jonathan Kydd a1
a1 Centre for Development and Poverty Reduction, Imperial College London, Wye Campus.

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dorward a   [Google Scholar] 
kydd j   [Google Scholar] 


The recent food crisis in Malawi has drawn stark attention to the failures of development policies over the last forty years to create wealth and develop a robust economy or the markets on which such an economy must depend. Current market liberalisation policies have achieved at best mixed success in addressing the generic problems inhibiting smallholder agricultural development: low returns to farmers' and service providers' investments, with high risks from natural shocks, price variations, coordination failure and opportunistic behaviour. Post-independence institutional mechanisms in Malawi were more successful in addressing some of these problems, in particular those of coordination risk, although external and internal difficulties led to increasing costs and declining effectiveness of these mechanisms, and to their collapse. They do provide, however, important lessons about the different failures of both market intervention and market liberalisation policies. We suggest and discuss a set of critical elements needed for economic development and wealth creation in poor rural areas, and propose four basic principles to guide the search for, and design and implementation of, effective rural development strategies and policies.


1 An earlier version of this paper was originally presented at ‘Malawi after Banda: perspectives in a regional African context’, a conference to mark the retirement of John McCracken, 4–5 September 2002, Centre of Commonwealth Studies, University of Stirling. The work draws on various pieces of work commissioned by the UK Department for International Development; however the findings, interpretations and conclusions expressed in this paper are entirely those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Department for International Development, which does not guarantee their accuracy and can accept no responsibility for any consequences of their use. We gratefully acknowledge helpful comments on the development and revision of this paper from colleagues in Imperial College London and from two anonymous reviewers.