By Charles Mpaka
BLANTYRE, Jun 30 2023 (IPS)
Located between two heavily-deforested mountains, Nakadanga Trust in Machinga District in southern Malawi looks lifeless.
It is isolated away from all other original communities. Here, the houses are made of mud bricks and they are grass thatched. There is no source of potable water in the area. There is no school nearby, no health centre and no shops for groceries.
When the members of the trust gathered to speak with IPS last month, one of the outstanding features among them was that there were more babies and children than could be expected.
“Early marriages are rampant here,” said one of the women, Merika Kapachika.
“There is nowhere our children can learn about the dangers of early marriages and early pregnancies. In the homes, there is nothing much to do.”
Kapachika is among the people that relocated to the area in 2006 under a government land resettlement programme.
Between 2004 and 2011, the Ministry of Lands implemented the Community-Based Rural Land Development Project with financial support from the World Bank.
The project involved moving what it described as “poor, land-poor and food insecure families” from the tea-growing districts of Thyolo and Mulanje in the south to Mangochi, Machinga, Balaka and Ntcheu districts in the eastern region.
There, people were resettled on land which the government had acquired from estate owners. The beneficiaries were organised into settlement communities called trusts.
At the time the project ended in 2011, over 15,000 families had been moved.
The World Bank’s Implementation Completion and Results Report Project, dated March 30, 2012, says the programme “fully” achieved its development objectives.
It says the programme succeeded in increasing both incomes and agricultural productivity of the rural families that moved.
According to the report, the incomes of the relocated families had multiplied by six; yields for maize and tobacco reached an average level of 50 to 60 percent higher as compared to communities in the surrounding areas; average maize and tobacco yields multiplied by 4 and 2.6 respectively as compared to the previous situation of the relocated households.
“Based on the promising results of this pilot experience of land acquisition and redistribution for smallholders, the Government of Malawi is willing to scale up the approach to the entire country with an objective of resettling at least 100,000 households,” reads the report in part.
However, alternative assessments expose the social and economic hardships the beneficiaries have suffered.
For example, a study of the project published in the South African Journal of Agriculture Extension in 2015 found that the relocated communities faced greater difficulties to access agricultural inputs, credit, markets and extension services to support their agricultural production and access to social services.
“As a consequence, household food and income security deteriorated after phase out of the project in 2011,” the study says.
In the six trusts which IPS visited in Machinga and Mangochi districts, where 90 percent of the 15,000 families were resettled, stories of regret are prevalent.
Mary Yalale moved from Mulanje District in 2007 and resettled in Mangochi. Initially, it looked promising. The people finally had enough land on which to grow crops. They realised a good harvest in the first few years.
“However, we did not have markets to sell part of our produce for money for us to meet other needs. Vendors took advantage. They would invade the area, buy our produce at exploitative prices, knowing that we were unable to take it to proper markets ourselves where we could earn better prices,” said Yalale of Kuma Trust.
Today, she said, they are poor such that some of them survive on piecework in the homes of the original communities.
“Our land has degraded because we are now turning to forests to produce charcoal and firewood, which our husbands take to town to make money.
“Up to now, we still do not have good relations with the original communities. They say we grabbed the land that should have gone to them. We are outcasts. The government does not give us cheap fertiliser like it does with the others. It makes us feel foolish that we agreed to come,” she said.
In Bweya Trust in Machinga District, there stands a relatively new primary school block.
Chairperson of the trust, Sowani Saidi, who is also chairperson of all the trusts of relocated people in the two districts, said it was not by the design of the government that they have a school in the area.
“We moved here in 2007. It has taken us more than 10 years of fighting with the district council for us to have this school here. We moulded bricks and collected sand for our children to have a school,” he said.
They may have the school now, but they are struggling to have the government build teachers’ houses. To date, there are no teachers’ houses at the school.
Many teachers for the school are based at the trading centre about 10 kilometres away.
“So most of them don’t come most of the time. They can’t walk, or they spend a lot hiring motorbikes to report for duties. When it’s the rainy season, there are no classes on many days because teachers don’t come. We have been asking the government to build the houses; nothing is happening,” he said.
IPS reached out to the Ministry of Lands, which implemented the programme, for its comment on these concerns. Its spokesperson, Enock Chingoni, did not respond.
However, senior officials at Mangochi and Machinga district councils, speaking on condition of anonymity as they are not authorised to speak on behalf of the government on the project, said the project did not have any integrated social and economic development activities.
The design was that once people resettled, another government programme, the Malawi Social Action Fund (Masaf), which was also financed by the World Bank, would bring public services.
“However, Masaf failed to deliver,” said one official who was part of the implementation of the programme in 2010 in Mangochi District.
Masaf, a product of the Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy, was meant to ensure poverty reduction through activities implemented by local councils under the decentralisation policy. But decentralisation itself is generally considered as failed thus far.
“Up to now, the central government still controls much of the work of the government. We are on the receiving end of most of its decisions,” he said.
Asked if the council has any specific interventions in the resettled communities, he said there is none.
“Yes, we have development plans as a council; but we treat those people like anyone else. There is not going to be any development specific to them. At least not from the government,” said the official.
Gift Trapence, the chairperson of the Human Right Defenders Coalition (HRDC), a local organisation, faulted the project for not considering social services as a core component in its implementation.
“Such projects should not be breeding grounds for poverty. Rather they should empower citizens socially and economically,” Trapence said.
He urged the government to assess the settlements and come up with an actionable plan to address the public service access challenges they are facing.
For Kapachika of Nakadanga Trust they are no longer interested in such interventions.
“We have been here for more than 10 years now. All along, the government has known that we are suffering; it has done nothing.
“What we want now is it should take us back to where it uprooted us. There we had health centres. We had good roads and markets. We did not have to wait for our children to reach 8 years for them to start primary school. We were delivering our babies in hospitals, not in the bush. Government should take us back to our villages,” she said.
IPS UN Bureau Report