Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Geography, Environment and Planning

Major Professor

Pratyusha Basu, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Martin Bosman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

K. Alsharif, Ph.D.

Committee Member

D.A. Himmelgreen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

S. Reader, Ph.D.

Committee Member

N.Y. Romero-Daza, Ph.D.


modernization, subsidies, policy making, food security, context, finance


Numerous studies have been undertaken on the political economy of agricultural policies in developing countries. These studies have explained agricultural policies in terms of urban bias, economic reforms, and domestic politics. Recently, the emphasis has been on explanations that reference the existence of a rational-legal and patronage element within the African state. Such explanations tend to underplay the extent to which agricultural policies are devised in a context of power asymmetries between the state and international donors or financial institutions. In the Malawian context specifically, limited attention has been paid to the possibility that policies are a negotiated outcome of interactions informed by competing objectives at the state-donor interface. Accordingly, the proposed study will attempt to fill this existing gap in the literature.

Malawi is currently at the center of policy debates regarding the state’s capacity to launch a uniquely African Green Revolution within a marketized and capitalist configuration. Such debates mark the continued underinvestment in agriculture on the African continent. The Malawi case, therefore, provides a unique opportunity to explore the extent to which state level efforts are either confounded or enabled by donors and international financial institutions. The specific successes and failures of the Malawi case speak to the question of how other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa might successfully address food production and food security issues.

This dissertation will explore the overarching question of the role of the state and international donors in shaping agricultural and food security policies using Malawi’s farm input subsidy program as a case study. The main research methods to explore this question are qualitative, including interviews with various development stakeholders (government ministries, international development agencies, researchers from policy research and academic institutions, and civil society organizations) associated with agriculture and food policy-making, and textual analysis of publications associated with them. The research specifically targets key experts in the area of agriculture and food security.

The findings indicate that policies have been greatly influenced by the competing ideologies of the state and donors, with each recognizing the problem but differing on the approach and modalities for solving food insecurity in Malawi. To this extent, there has been considerable inconsistency in policies with obvious negative outcomes. More recently, there has been an aligning of policy positions towards the use of social welfare programs and commercialization in addressing food insecurity. This alignment relates to policy positions on both the FISP and the configuration of the wider agricultural sector as manifest in the National Agricultural Policy, for example. The role of domestic politics vs. donors in policy processes has been in flux due to changes in the political and economic environment and configuration at specific junctures.

The study also finds that evidence has been important in informing policy-making, more importantly, finance has had significant impact in attenuating the influence of domestic politics, so that the recently proposed and implemented reforms to FISP, although connected to considerable sociopolitical pressure from various quarters, have been largely precipitated by a serious fiscal crisis on the part of the government. To this extent, the state has assumed a pragmatic approach to policy-making i.e., one that is cognizant of the limitations imposed by finance and Malawi’s very harsh, challenging, and complex context.