Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Lisa Cliggett


This dissertation explores how smallholder tobacco growers in Lilongwe, Malawi, experience and respond to fluctuating and declining incomes, and to a generally unstable market as a result of changes in the global tobacco industry. Policy makers and scholars have for a long-time debated on the question of how smallholder farmers are going to adapt to future institutional and structural changes in global agriculture. Studies on rural livelihood restructuring have revealed that processes of economic globalization have disrupted state marketing institutions, and undermined regulatory frameworks, causing shocks to livelihoods of smallholders across the world. These livelihood shocks affect smallholders’ capacities to engage in traditional risk management practices, leaving them vulnerable to future changes in global agriculture. Some studies have called for the strengthening of state and non-state institutions to assist smallholders recover from livelihood crises that result from market shocks. However, the role of these institutions in shaping the perception risk and awareness of the changes smallholders face, which in turn shapes their responses to current and future crises, has not been adequately investigated.

Tobacco farmers in Malawi have in recent years experienced unstable markets marked by fluctuating and declining incomes, at the same time that the global tobacco industry is experiencing institutional and structural changes resulting from the anti-smoking lobby, and changing consumption and production patterns. This ethnographic study examined the perception of risk to long-term viability of tobacco farming and adaptive responses among smallholder tobacco growers. Fieldwork revealed that most growers consider the on-going market instability as just one of the risks farmers must deal with and that they employ a repertoire of coping strategies rather than long term adaptive strategies. I argue that smallholders view the current market instability through the lens of exploitative and inefficient tobacco institutions which preclude them from taking a long-term view about their livelihoods.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)