Peasants, the State and Rural Economy: A History of Food Production in Southern Malawi, 1859 – 1964


African Humanities Program Postdoctoral Fellowships


International Studies Group


Since the late 1850s, white settlers and colonial administrators made various interventions to improve the levels of peasants’ food production in Malawi. Yet despite the significance this development had on peasants’ livelihoods, the Malawi historiography has predominantly concentrated on the disruptive nature of colonial capitalism. This book explores the interventions that the colonial state and other European actors made to improve peasants’ food production in southern Malawi from 1859 to 1964. While colonialism disrupted rural livelihoods, it argues that its impact was complex and varied, and that, in some respect, it brought with it efforts to improve peasants’ food production practices. However, the success of these efforts was contested. Ruthlessly carried out alongside conservation, together with officials derogatory attitudes towards African practices, it became difficult for the state to effectively implement its new agricultural policy. The study provides insights into modern debates on state interventions, food security, and sustainable development.