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Native Trust Land in colonial Nyasaland was a category of land held in trust by the Secretary of State for the Colonies and administered by the colonial Governor for the benefit of African communities. In pre-colonial times, land belonged to the African communities that occupied it, and they were free to use it in accordance with local customary law. In the late 19th century, large areas of fertile land were acquired by European settlers, and the remainder became Crown land, which the colonial government could alienate without the consent of the resident communities. To give a measure of protection to those communities, in 1916 land in Native Reserves, which then amounted to about a quarter of the land in the protectorate, was designated as Native Trust Land, to be held in trust for the benefit of African communities. Later, in 1936, all Crown Land except game or forest reserves or that used for public purposes became Native Trust Land, and Native Authorities were authorised to allocate Trust Land to their communities in accordance with customary law. After 1936, Native Trust Land constituted over 80% of the land in Nyasaland and most African farmers farmed Native Trust Land from then until Nyasaland gained independence as Malawi in 1964 and after.