Population growth and environmental degradation in Malawi.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Malawi has been ranked by the World Bank as one of the poorest countries in Africa. Malawi's only resources are its people and fertile soil, which comprises about 55% of land area. Environmental degradation and population growth conditions in Malawi were used to illustrate the model of environmental degradation linked to population pressure on land resources and government development strategies that favored large-scale agricultural farms. The result has been deforestation, overgrazing, overuse of land for subsistence, and increased population density. The argument was that population growth in some developing countries has been so rapid that environmental collapse is the result. The theoretical framework linking population growth, environment, and resources emphasized processes: 1) the precursor stage of underlying causes; 2) the problem phase with potential ecological and economic decline; and 3) consequences (environmental decline, reduction in food production systems, and reduction in standard of living). The precursors were identified as an agrarian society, lack of a population policy, and emphasis on large families. The problems were rapid population growth and immigration from Mozambique, which led to increased demand for trees for fuel and consequent deforestation, increased demand for arable land and consequent landlessness, increased investment in livestock and consequent overgrazing, and continued population momentum which was a financial burden to government and resulted in increased labor competition. The ecological consequences were soil erosion, degradation of vegetation, and water supply contamination and decline. Eventually, famines will occur and lead to disease, migration, deserted villages, urbanization, unemployment, ethnic conflicts, and political unrest. Population was estimated at 8.75 million in 1990, with exponential growth expected. Completed family size was 6.6 children per woman. Even replacement fertility would mean growth for 50 more years. Population density was 85 persons per sq. km and 300 persons per sq. km on arable land in the Southern Region. 26% of land area could be cultivated to accommodate future population growth; most of this land would be in the Southern Region with higher population density. Delicate marginal lands had been cultivated with resultant mineral leaching, hard panning, and soil erosion. Shifting cultivation patterns have been replaced due to population pressure. Small landholders produced 80% of agricultural products in the past, but landlessness and commercial farming are growing concerns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)273-282
Number of pages10
JournalAfrica insight
Volume22
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 1992
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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