Malawi is a densely populated country. Despite sustained economic growth, equally fast population growth has continued to depress Malawi’s GDP per capita, which stood at just US$339 in 2017. Malawi has persistently been one of the poorest countries in the world, with over 70% of its population living in poverty. Overall, agriculture employs 85% of the working age population. Just 17% of the population lives in urban areas.
Land is designated under public, private freehold or customary ownership. Public land is held by the government in the public interest and governs national parks, conservation or historical areas. Most private land is held in estates for the production of tobacco, sugar cane or tea, which together account for over 80% of Malawi’s exports. Most land is held by community members under customary law, mainly distributed among smallholder families who typically occupy less than one hectare each. Leaseholds on private, public and customary land can be granted for periods of between 21 to 99 years for agricultural purposes, property or infrastructure development.
Matrilineal systems are prevalent in the central and southern regions while patrilineal systems dominate the north, leading to marginalisation of both men and women despite the Constitution prohibiting gender discrimination. Nonetheless, female-headed households typically suffer from greater poverty and possess smaller landholdings and fewer livestock than their male counterparts.