Population control as an economic policy and poverty reduction strategy for Malawi

Recently the Minister of Finance, Goodall Gondwe, regretted the fast growing population of Malawi as an economic tragedy which has made it impossible for the people of Malawi to realize economic gains that have been achieved in the past 50 years. While others would be too quick to snub the Minister’s remarks, I stand to support the minister’s statement.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world: 65 percent of the population here lives on less than 1.25 dollars a day, and nearly one in 10 children die before their fifth birthday. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world: 65 percent of the population here lives on less than 1.25 dollars a day, and nearly one in 10 children die before their fifth birthday. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

A history lecturer who taught me a course in “World Civilization,” the late Mr Ogeto, told us during one of his very interesting classes that Prime Minister of India, Indira Ghandi, got so worried about the growing population of India that she decided that Indian men must be castrated. Her argument was that overpopulation was distracting India’s economic progress and was the cause of the widespread poverty that was hitting India in the 70s and 80s when she was in power.

Mr Ogeto was the funniest lecturer I have ever met in life. He was so funny with his jokes and how he told them that it was sometimes hard to tell if he is joking or telling the serious truth. When he talked about Ghandi’s Castration Policy we all laughed it out as one of his usual jokes.

But I later came to understand that as a funny man, Ogeto only used the word castration to make the issue sound more interesting, but he was saying the truth about Ghandi’s policy to control population as mean of eradication of poverty. What he did not emphasize rather, was that the policy was some forced or compulsory sterilization of men, especially the poor to make them unable to impregnate their wives upon having two or three children.

The sad reality is that the people of India, especially the poor reacted against the Compulsory Sterilization Policy because they believed that it was a policy which was targeted at them out of sheer disregard for the poor and they fought against it.

However, Ghandi, apart from being the only female that ever ruled India and not only once but twice, she is also probably the toughest and most dictatorial leader that India has ever had, and she managed to force the men into getting sterilized or “castrated” in the words of Ogeto.

What am I talking about? Do not misunderstanding me. I am not proposing that Malawi government needs to come up with compulsory sterilization of men or women who have had a certain number of children, though I would still support such a policy as means of economic and poverty reduction policies. But what I am saying is that government needs to declare Malawi a nation with a population disaster and adopt some aggressive and even “coercive” measures to tackle the population crisis before it finishes us.

Please, understand this coercion like in the case where we force pregnant women to have an HIV test to save not only the mothers, but also the life they carry in the womb or babies they breastfeed. When it comes to this, you don’t invoke the Bill of Rights as an instrument to fight against the policy but rather the reason to enforce it.

To appreciate why overpopulation must be fought against with every ammunition that government and the people can get hold of, including aggressive and compulsory policies, we must all understand the evils of overpopulation on the economy of a nation. Allow me to explain using just one argument to avoid making this article long and boring.

The renowned British Economist, Thomas Malthus, argued that “human sex drive causes faster and faster expansion of the populace. Food production would not keep up because of the law of diminishing returns.” In this case, according to the law of diminishing returns, the point Malthus was making here is that the more people you add to work on a fixed land, the less and less output is added with their effort.

The idea is that if you are adding people on a piece of land, then you must also expand the boundaries of the land if you want the land to produce more. Otherwise, if the land is only large enough to produce 50 bags of Chimanga to support only 10 people who work and live on it, the land would still produce only 50bags of Chimanga when 40 people work and live on it.

The added 30 people will be an extra burden on the land, even if they work hard. What would definitely follow on that land is poverty and starvation as too many people struggle for little food that the small land can produce. The logical solution to the predicament would be to either increase the boundaries of the land or reduce the number of people to levels that the land can support.


What most people ignore is that the economy is some kind of a living rational animal. It thinks logically and fights back when provoked to the limits of its endurance. Overpopulation burdens the economy, especially where there is no production. The economy gets angry and begins to fight back in order to relieve itself of the pressure.

How does the economy fight back? It begins to literally kill people through frequent accidents, diseases, plagues, starvation, natural disasters due to environmental degradation, reduced life expectancy, poverty and etc. The reason the economy does this is to raise the death-rate of people and bring proper balance or some equilibrium between population size and the size of the land with regards to its production potential.

Finally, in case you missed what I said up there, don’t miss this conclusion: nature has a way of controlling population to economically manageable levels in a very disastrous and tragic manner. If we don’t control population on our own, nature will certainly do it on our behalf and it will be painful as it has already been happening unnoticeably by many of us. The only option is for us to take matters in our own hands and artificially control our population with less painful approaches but painful all the same.


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Thitherward \'wendo
Thitherward \'wendo
5 years ago

Only one comment! This shows what little interest we have in recognizing and solving this fundamental problem. Birth control can help to solve a variety of problems. For example, in the US in the 1960s, teenage crime was exploding across the country and seemed set to increase indefinitely. However, the Roe vs Wade case resulted in abortion being made available to those with unwanted pregnancies. Consequently, far fewer babies were born to poor, single, drug-addicted, criminally-active mothers – and thus born into environments that bred juvenile delinquents. By the 1980s, the teenage crime rate had dropped dramatically. Of course, there… Read more »

M Sizini
M Sizini
5 years ago

This is common sense. If you have plenty of schools, teachers and learning aids for 3 million Malawians, you will need to build 6 times as many schools, train 6 times as many teachers, and produce 6 times as many learning aids for 18 million Malawians. This would need an economic miracle, yet pretty soon our population will be 6 times what it was at independence, despite the AIDS epidemic.

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