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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Voluntary resettlement for improved livelihoods? : examining food security, nutrition, and informed consent amongst land reform participants in southern Malawi Sharp, Kelly Susan


Land scarcity and food insecurity are critical concerns for billions of individuals worldwide; voluntary resettlement, as a type of land reform, offers governments and aid agencies a controversial approach to address these concerns. This thesis examines the case of a US$38-million World Bank-funded voluntary resettlement scheme in southern Malawi known as the Community Based Rural Land Development Project, through which 15,000 low-income farming households moved internally from densely populated areas to underutilized plantations between 2004 and 2011. The project and its explicit goals (to increase participant income and agricultural productivity) have been the subject of several studies, but the wider range of indirect outcomes and possible unintended consequences are lesser known, which this thesis works to address. The first analytic chapter assesses the extent to which the project was ‘voluntary’, and considers the real versus perceived land tenure claims established by the programme. To enhance understanding this analysis, this chapter also considers factors influencing household participation and withdrawal in the resettlement. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of surveys (N=203), focus group discussions (N=5) and interviews (N=20) suggest that participants did not have a clear understanding of the project conditions, and that they perceived their new ownership rights to be more secure and individual than they were by law. Additionally, attrition rates were analyzed: despite numerous influences factoring into participant decisions to withdraw and return ‘home’, availability of land in the district of origin and access to infrastructure in the district of resettlement played significant roles. The second analytic chapter assesses the effectiveness of voluntary resettlement in improving food security, including its effects on dietary diversity. Regressions and statistical analyses of Dietary Diversity Scores indicate that participants had statistically significant lower levels of food security and dietary diversity than former and non-beneficiaries, possibly due to a lack of infrastructure and access to markets. These findings highlight the importance of participatory holistic planning for voluntary resettlement, particularly to ensure participant understanding of future living conditions, and ultimately challenge the utility of voluntary resettlement as a policy tool to improve the well-being of subsistence farmers.

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