Bryson Nkhoma


Bryson is a Malawian by nationality. He holds a PhD in Africa Studies (History) from the University of the Free State in South Africa obtained in 2018. He researches on subjects related to agricultural change, peasant production and international relations. Meanwhile, Bryson is a postdoctoral fellow in the International Studies Group at the University of the Free State. By applying for this writer’s workshop, Bryson intends to strengthen his scholarly capacity to publish in high impact journals like the Journal of Peasant Studies.


Maize, Ecology, and the State: Regulating Maize Production among the Peasants in Colonial Malawi, 1920s—1960

Since the early 1920s, the Agricultural Department in Malawi expressed reservations on the ecological and nutritional implications of the monoculture of maize as the country’s major staple food crop. According to the Department, excessive maize production had adverse ecological effects on the country’s soil fertility. Since food production laid at the heart of peasant life, the colonial agricultural policy attracted a great deal of contestations that came to characterise relations between the state, peasants, and settler farmers throughout the colonial period. Yet despite the significance this development had on the country’s food security, the Malawian historiography has remained allusive on maize’s ecological history, not least state attempts to regulate its production among peasants. The existing historiography has predominantly treated maize tangentially within the wider studies of agricultural development and peasants’ everyday experiences with food production and consumption. This article, therefore, examines the attempts by the colonial state in Malawi to regulate maize production and the responses of the peasants to the regulations from 1920 to 1960. Using archival evidence from southern Malawi, the study argues that, while the ecological impact of excessive maize production was understandable, the excessive use of power to control the production was unjustifiable in the context of rapid population growth, dwindling cultivation land and age-long culture of maize as a staple food among Malawian peasants. Similarly, the proposed state measures to increase maize production on small acreage with minimal damage to soil fertility such as the use of chemical fertilisers and hybrid maize varieties were far from peasants’ capacity. Furthermore, lack of cognizance of local context and history as well as inconsistencies in policy implementation affected its acceptability among the peasants. In making this argument, the study demonstrates the extent to which global forces shaped colonial developments with serious implications on peasant food security.

Affiliation: University of Free State