The Political Economy of Tobacco Production and Diversification of Rural Livelihoods in Malawi

  • Lonjezo Masikini

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This research addresses a gap in understanding national trends, sub-national variations in tobacco production and the diversification of livelihood activities in Central and Southern Regions of Malawi between 2000 and 2020. It is based on a multi-method research approach combining review of secondary literature, an analysis of published data on rural livelihood trends, interviews, and focus group discussions with diverse stakeholders along the tobacco value chain.

The thesis reveals a twin movement, with a distinct political payoff for each of the two regions studied. First, the tobacco value chain is becoming more vertically integrated and geographically clustered in Central Region and more tightly controlled by large buyers via contract farming. By focusing on fewer producers, firms can exert more influence over quality standards, drive down costs, and mitigate risks, including reputational risks associated with poor environmental and labour practices. One consequence is the decline in tobacco production elsewhere, including the poorer areas of the Southern Region. A second finding of the thesis is that these losses have partly been offset by clientelist state and non-governmental organisations’ support for livelihood diversification. Overall, and whether planned or not, these two drivers of change can be viewed as a dynamic political bargaining and illustrates how wider institutional and political issues affect long-term livelihood production and diversification trends.

Theoretically, the thesis illustrates how an understanding of livelihood trends and agrarian transformations benefits from combining the sustainable livelihood framework with insights into power and the role of institutions derived from viewing tobacco as a global production network also embedded within Malawi’s wider political economy.
Date of Award13 Sept 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMichael Bloomfield (Supervisor) & James Copestake (Supervisor)

Cite this