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Land use intensity and trees on farms in Malawi

Clarkson, G. (2011) Land use intensity and trees on farms in Malawi. PhD thesis, University of Hull

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Rapidly increasing population densities in Malawi have put a huge strain on the existing agricultural land and the surrounding woodland. Smallholder agriculture is the dominant economic activity of Malawi’s rural population and many farmers have been forced to cultivate marginal lands with less fertile soils, making conditions much more difficult to grow crops. Natural woodland is under increasing pressure from the opening of new lands for cultivation and the increased demand for firewood, timber and other woody resources, with rural households historically obtaining most of their complementary inputs and saleable commodities from nearby areas of forest (Arnold, 1997a). Despite this increasing pressure, woodlands are not being cleared indiscriminately; selected indigenous species are left standing in fields and around households. These are joined by exotic species that are planted and maintained. These trees provide products and services that are vital, yielding food, firewood, building materials and medicine, replenishing soil fertility and protecting against soil erosion. Following a Boserupian approach, this study attempts to establish the reality of a trajectory of enhanced on-farm tree planting and management as population pressure mounts and as part of a more general process of agricultural intensification. The study examines the combination of factors (social, economic, political and environmental) that either stimulate or discourage on-farm tree planting on smallholdings in Malawi, highlighting how woodland resource use changes over a gradient of land use intensity. This study gives a detailed insight into the way that tree planting and management in the smallholder farming system in Malawi works and identifies a trend of increased tree planting/management alongside an increase in agricultural intensification. However, there is no single ‘path’ of intensification; the link between agricultural change and tree planting is complex and there are many trajectories of intensification that a farmer may follow, dependent on his/her social or economic circumstances. The study recommends that agroforestry interventions give rigorous consideration to the needs of the local community, and the suitability of trees to address those needs, before embarking on programmes that advocate tree planting and management as a panacea.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Bradley, P. N.
Thesis/Report Department:Department of Geography
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:No Reading authors. Back catalogue items
ID Code:32181

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