International Treaties

Sustainable Development

Environmental Law

Case Studies


Environmental Crime Legal Framework In Malawi

The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi covers protection of the environment, sustainable development and agricultural development among others. Article 13 reads: The State shall actively promote the welfare and development of the people of Malawi by progressively adopting and implementing policies and legislation aimed at managing the environment responsibly in order to:

  • Prevent the degradation of the environment;
  • Provide a healthy living and working environment for the people of Malawi
  • Accord full recognition to the rights of future generations by means of environmental protection and the sustainable development of natural resources
  • Conserve and enhance the biological diversity of Malawi
  • Featured Legislation

    1969: The Plant Protection Act was introduced to oversee the eradication of pests and diseases destructive to plants to prevent the introduction and spread of pests and diseases destructive to plants.

    1987: The National Herbarium and Botanic Gardens Act was adopted to provide for the development and management of herbarium and botanic gardens as national heritage for Malawi and the establishment of the National Herbarium & Botanic Gardens of Malawi.

    • 1996: The Environment Management Act (EMA) was signed, providing for establishment of environmental protection areas and conservation of biological diversity and access to genetic resources. It also makes the provision of preparation of National Environment Actions Plans (NEAP), conducting of EIA, pollution control and waste management.
    • 1997:The Forestry Act was passed, guiding the conservation and management of forests, Protected areas, Biodiversity, Traditional rights/customary rights, Protection forest, Agro-forestry, Fuelwood, Non-timber products, Environmental audits, Afforestation/reforestation, Soil conservation/soil improvement and Soil rehabilitation.
    • 1997: The Fisheries Conservation and Management Act was implemented to strengthen institutional capacity by involving various stakeholders in the management of fisheries; promote community participation and protection of fish; and provide for the establishment and operation of aquaculture.
    • 2001: The Irrigation Act was presented. This Act covers sustainable development and management of irrigation, protection of the environment from irrigation related degradations, among others.
    • 2004: National Environmental PolicyThe National Environmental Policy of Malawi is a cross-sectoral policy with the following objectives: Secure for all persons, now and in the future, an environment suitable for their health and well being; Promote sustainable utilization and management of the country’s natural resources and encourage, where appropriate, long term self sufficiency in food, fuel wood and other energy requirements; Facilitate the restoration, maintenance and enhancement of the ecosystems and ecological processes essential for the functioning of the biosphere and prudent use of renewable resources; Promote the ecosystems management approach so as to ensure that sectoral mandates and responsibilities are fully and effectively channelled towards sustainable environment and natural resources management; Enhance public education and awareness of various environmental issues and public participation in addressing them; Integrate sustainable environment and natural resources management into the decentralized governance systems and ensure that the institutional framework for the management of the environment and natural resources supports environmental governance in local government authorities; Promote local community, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) and private sector participation in environment and natural resources management; Promote the use and application of local knowledge and norms that facilitate sustainable environment and natural resources management; Promote cooperation with other Governments and relevant regional and international organizations in the management and conservation of the environment; Develop and regularly update environmental information systems to facilitate planning and decision-making at local, national and international levels; Facilitate development and regular review of policies and legislation to promote sustainable management of the environment and natural resources; Facilitate development of mechanisms for management of conflicts in the environment and natural resources sector. To improve human welfare and sustainable environment and natural resources management the policy has established guiding principles: Natural resources and the environment are the bedrock of the country’s wealth, livelihood and prosperity. Unless sustainably managed and equitably and fairly distributed, they can be sources of conflicts, resentment and consequently environmental degradation and unsustainable utilization of natural resources; Poverty is one of the root causes of environmental degradation in Malawi and is at the core of the government’s development agenda for the foreseeable future. Its alleviation is critical to natural resource conservation, protection and sustainable utilization. Regarding land tenure and land use, promote sustainable use of the land resources of Malawi, primarily, but not exclusively, for agricultural purposes by strengthening and clearly defining security of tenure over land resources. The following guiding principles have been established: the provision of security of tenure for smallholder farmers against estate expansion is important for sustainable resource-based production systems (including trees); Empowering CBOs to regulate resource management on common property in their respective areas should be given high priority; Customary rights to land and resource use will be recognized and protected, or alternatives provided, including the opportunity to convert to leasehold; A comprehensive land policy should encompass not only property rights to land but also other natural resources (e.g. trees, water, fisheries, wetlands, minerals, rangelands and wildlife); Land use planning and classification is essential for sustainable environment and natural resources management.
    • 2004: The National Parks and Wildlife Amendment Act was adopted to serve as a framework for wildlife management, including the identification of species, which should be designated for protection.
    • 2013: The Water Resources Act was created for the management, conservation, use and control of water resources, and the acquisition and regulation of rights to use water.
    • The Water Resources Act was adopted. This Act provides for the management and conservation of water resources in Malawi. It consists of 162 sections divided into 15 Parts: Preliminary Provisions (I) ; National Water Resources Authority (II); Catchment Management Committees (III); National Water Policy and National Water Resources Master Plan (IV); Water Abstraction and Use (V); Control And Protection of Groundwater (VI) ; Protected Areas and Controlled Activities (VII); Prevention And Control of Water Pollution (VIII); Government Waterworks (IX); Safety of Dams and Flood Management (X); Water Charges and Financial Provisions (XI); Water Tribunal (XII); Part Associations of Water Users (XIII); Miscellaneous Provisions (XIV); Repeals, Savings and Transitional Provisions (XV).
    • 2016: The Customary Land Act was instituted, covering ecosystem preservation, sustainable development, basic legislation, land tenure, common property, traditional rights/customary rights, cadaster /land registration, ownership, expropriation, institution, court/tribunal, mountain area, community management, sustainable use.
    • 2017: The Environment Management Act was passed. This Act concerns the conservation and management of the environment in Malawi and prescribes environmental standards. It also concerns the conservation and management of biological (genetic) resources. The Act consists of 119 sections divided into 17 Parts, covering main areas of environmental concern, some of the areas covered are: the Environment Protection Authority; Environmental Planning; Environmental and social impact assessment, audits and monitoring; Environmental standards; Management of the Environment and Natural Resources; Pollution Control; The Environment Fund. Climate Change is addressed in part VIII concerning management of the environment and natural resources.

    Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

    • In 2020: Nine members of a wildlife trafficking gang were sentenced by a Malawi court to a total of 56.5 years’ prison time. Referred to as the Lin-Zhang syndicate, the criminals were  found guilty of various wildlife trafficking offences, some of which included the illegal trade of pangolins, rhino horn, ivory and hippo teeth. One of the gang members, Quinhua Zhang, is the wife of Yunhua Lin, the alleged kingpin of the Lin-Zhang syndicate, and was caught by police after a protracted manhunt in Asia. Zhang was convicted of possession of rhino horns and an illegal firearm. The arrest highlights  Malawi’s political will and determination to dismantle one of Africa’s most prolific organised international crime syndicates, according to Mary Rice, EIA Executive Director. Brighton Kumchedwa, Malawi’s Director of National Parks & Wildlife, also noted that such arrests require more sophistication and collaboration among national and local law enforcement, inviting the input from external stakeholders. This arrest also sends a clear message to other wildlife traffickers: criminals can expect to feel the full weight of the law and Malawi is no longer a playground for the likes of the Lin-Zhang syndicate that exploit the nation’s natural heritage. According to Kumchedwa, the Lin-Zhang syndicate has been operating in Malawi for at least a decade and opportunities to tackle corruption among the ranks of the government of Malawi are being further explored. For example, two members of the Lin-Zhang syndicate were James Mkwezalamba and Julius Sanudia, two Malawian nationals.  According to Kumchedwa, the Lin-Zhang syndicate has been operating in Malawi for at least a decade.

    References and Further Reading


    Environmental Affairs Department: