Human Recognition and Land Use Behavior: A Structural Equation Modeling Approach from Malawi


Land management interventions can only be responsible if the relations between people and land is properly understood, and if the underlying relationship and land decision dynamics reasons are effectively incorporated in the evaluation of land-related interventions (de Vries and Chigbu, 2017). Contemporary land administration literature models relations between people and land as either a relation of rights, a relation of use, or a relation of values (Lemmen, van Oosterom, and Bennett, 2015; Williamson et al., 2010; Henssen, 1995). In these models, people are captured by the concept “subject” or “party” and are usually considered a rather static entity. Within a group, it is assumed that certain interpersonal relations exist. However, the relationship dynamics which influence the decision to own or use a piece of land are usually not accounted for in land management models. Thus, it is not obvious during land allocation, registration, or adjudication processes how to properly assess land tenure relations on an individual level.

Additional discourses on responsible land management and land governance (Zevenbergen, de Vries, and Bennett, 2015 and FAO, 2012) emphasize that responsibilities are rooted in multidisciplinary design. It argues that insights and conventions within land administration are better connected and integrated with theoretical concepts from other disciplines, like sustainable resource management, economics, and development studies. In this chapter we introduce the concept of human recognition to improve the comprehension of interpersonal relations and their effects on land use behavior. Human recognition addresses the extent to which individuals are viewed and valued by others, as well as treated based on this value, with effects on recipient’s wellbeing, but contribute to aggregate economic development.

Therefore, using structural equation modeling (SEM), we examine the influence of human recognition on land use behavior in selected communities in Malawi. Particularly focusing on women farmers, we analyze to what extent certain land use behavior and participation in community discourse are influenced by self/household and the institutional human recognition around them. Our study contributes to the literature on the role intangible concepts of development like human recognition play in responsible land use and community discourse. It also highlights the role of women farmers as self-agents of perception on barriers to responsible land use versus the role of community agents in understanding and meeting the needs of their community members.

The rest of the chapter is organized as follows: Section 6.2 looks at land use and tenure in Malawi. Methodology and descriptive results are presented in Section 6.3 and Section 6.4 presents the hypothesized relationships. The results are discussed and concluded with policy implications in Section 6.5.

Land Tenure in Malawi

Malawi developed a national land policy aimed at improving customary landholders’ tenure security (Djurfeldt et al., 2018, p.605; Peters, 2010). Since the new policy was passed towards the end of 2016 and the study data was collected five months after that, we argue that the effects of the new policy are yet to be reflected. We address the policy in place in the surveyed villages and districts, which is the customary land tenure. 66% of Malawi’s land is held under customary law, and kinship identifies who has rights to customary land, varying across regions and ethnic groups (Kishindo, 2010, p.90). Two social systems define how land rights are passed on. They are the patrilineal system, predominant in the northern region where land rights are passed from father to son, and the matrilineal system, where land rights are passed on from mothers to daughters. For instance, Kishindo’s (2010, pp.92-97) study of Yao households (matrilineal) residing in Kachenga village, Balaka district, Southern Malawi notes that decisions on selection of seed for the next cropping cycle and other minor decisions are carried out by the women. However, purchase of inputs, labor, and income disposal were done by the men. Linkages also exists between secure land tenure, decision-making, and welfare. Djurfeldt et al. (2018, p.607) observe the influence of female land rights on decision-making and household spending patterns in the matrilineal village of Khasu. Although Holden and Otsuka (2014, pp.92-93), Lovo (2016, p.219) and Holden and Ghebru (2016) note that increased land tenure security increases observable efforts to invest in long-term land development and soil conservation for fertility, these findings were not examined by gender. In a nutshell, findings on the role of women as equal partners in responsible land management are lacking, and one reason could be the gender roles established in the community that do not fully recognize women as land managers and thus, value-adders in overall land management.

Land Use Behavior

Studies have explored the impact of challenges like climate (Asfaw et al., 2016, p.646; Kassie et al., 2008; Arslan et al., 2014), adoption cost (Sylwester, 2004), credit and market imperfections (Carter and Barrett, 2006), and tenure and community norms on land use (World Bank, 2006, pp. 18—30; Asfaw et al., 2016, p.643; Meinzen-Dick et al., 2019, p.74) on responsible land use. For example, the adoption of improved agronomic practices such as cover crops and crop rotations, has been associated with better farm performance, improved income, and overall environmental sustainability by Knowler and Bradshaw (2007), Teklewold, Kassie, and Shiferaw (2013), Snapp et al. (2002, p.159), and Waldman et al. (2016, pp. 1087-1088). Improved land use encompasses the responsible use of land resources, whose exploitation, enhancement, and investment are carried out such that both its current and future potential to meet human needs are advanced (deWrachien, 2010, p.472). Such land use behavior retains the land’s fertility and supports the production of food and other renewable resources for long-term use.

There is increased awareness of the role gender plays in household decision dynamics in adopting certain land use behaviour. For example, Waldman et al. (2016, p.1094) observe that although households in Malawi are more likely to plant legume crops because of soil fertility and cultural context, female-headed households are less likely to do so if they think that it involves more labor input. These perceptions reflect the investment responsibilities within households where women are constrained in labor input. Meinzen-Dick et al. (1997, p.1312) argues that the gender differential in agricultural productivity may also be fueled by education, access, time, labor, or other forms of human development. As observed by Kodoth (2001, pp.291-92), the gendered pattern in land use is heavily influenced by women’s position in the family, community, and ethnic group. That is, how women are viewed and valued in the society impacts women’s power dynamics, with significant influence on land use behaviour.

Community participation for women is important to improve gender asymmetry. Removal of gendered institutions will support women farmers’ short and long-term investments in land improvements. However, there are still gaps in addressing land use behavior through the lens of intangible forms of human development, like human recognition for women farmers.

Because of the patrilineal and matrilineal systems that exogenously defined land use and inheritance patterns, Malawi offers an excellent opportunity to examine self/household and institutional human recognition as an intangible influence on land use behavior for women farmers. Looking from a gender and human rights perspective, such analysis can help a better understanding of some of the constraints faced by women farmers. It will also help highlight how human recognition overall affects and promotes responsible land use behaviour.

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