Policy Note 30: Traditional Leadership and Social Support in Southern Malawi

Food and nutrition security remains elusive in Malawi, particularly for rural, agrarian communities affected by seasonal shocks, climate change and land scarcity. Many state and donor-led social support programs exist to help villagers cope with these shocks, but less is known about informal community support systems.

Policy Note 30 presents qualitative findings on the role of kinship, social obligations and traditional leaders in allocating household and community resources in Southern Malawi. The authors explore resource-sharing hierarchies, and how village chiefs and resource types and origins alter their allocation and resulting household and community dynamics. For example, the results indicate that in-kind transfers from Government and international organizations, such as fertilizer from the Fertilizer Input Subsidy Program (FISP), are commonly shared, whereas cash transfers are not. Similarly, goods produced or purchased by individual households are less likely to be shared than external resources.

The socio-cultural context surrounding the distribution of resources has important implications for the efficacy of government, humanitarian and development programming in the face of seasonal hunger. The authors’ findings highlight the need to consider socio-cultural components of resource allocation during program design in order to help the poorest and most vulnerable. The authors propose alternative approaches to targeting and program design to address these questions, such as increasing the accountability of traditional leaders to community members or circumventing their control over external resources, or alternatively, promoting programs that build upon existing sharing norms and encourage community contributions. 

Policy Note written by Amy Margolies, Noora-Lisa Aberman, and Aulo Gelli, 2017.

Download and read the full Policy Note here. (PDF 314KB)