The program, which officials say they will conduct on a willing-seller, willing-buyer basis, focuses on four districts in the southern region of the country, an area dominated by mostly British and Italian national-owned tobacco and tea estates.
“Government is buying land from estates and other land owners, especially those who have excess land, on a willing-buyer, willing-seller basis to distribute to the needy families,” Lands Commissioner Francis Majankono told Reuters.
The World Bank has agreed to fund the project approved by Malawi’s cabinet last year.
Government officials have not said how much land they will purchase for redistribution but have suggested they plan to expand it later, Reuters reported.
The new policy prevents foreign individuals and companies from owning land in the country of 11.5 million people but allows them to lease land from the government or private owners. After seven years, a non-Malawian would have the opportunity to become a Malawian citizen or continue to lease the land.
“Land redistribution is welcome because it would give a chance to the landless to own land and avoid disputes with estate owners,” Director of Malawi’s Institute for Policy Interaction Rafik Hajat told Reuters.
Malawi’s program, one of many in southern Africa, aims to benefit some 90 percent of its poor residents who own less than two acres of land for farming. Much of Malawi’s most fertile land is run by tea companies operated from Britain, according to Reuters.
Land redistribution has become a popular undertaking for governments in southern Africa seeking to overturn decades of colonial rule and apartheid during which land ownership was dominated by whites.
But critics of Malawi’s new program argue it will do little to help the country’s poor. They say the government does not have the funds to sustain such an effort.
“If the government is serious about addressing land inequalities it will have to reconsider its land policy,” Collins Magalasi, national coordinator of the Malawi Economic Justice Network, told the United Nations news service. “Perhaps countries like South Africa can afford to embark on this expensive exercise of purchasing land at market value, but for a poor country like Malawi it is impossible.”
Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, a country criticized for its violent seizure of white-owned farms in 2000, officials have offered to compensate evicted farmers for buildings and improvements made on their land but not for the land itself.
“We want to remain committed to what was agreed that we would acquire the land and compensate the farmers for improvements,” Land Reform Minister John Nkomo said this week.
Also, in Kenya this week, the Kenyan parliament unanimously voted in favor of a call for the government to seize all unused land and distribute it to landless individuals, the BBC reported.
Assistant Lands Minister Danson Mungatana said the government would offer a new land plan by October.