In Malawi, maize is the major crop and food staple. Given limited off-farm employment opportunities, much-needed increases in household income for improving food security must come from gains in agricultural productivity through better technology and more profitable crops. In the past, hybrid maize and more recently, tobacco were promoted by policy for increasing smallholder income. An analysis of determinants of adoption of these two crops and related income effects is presented. Apart from factor endowment and exposure to agroecological risks, differences in the household's access to financial and commodity markets significantly influence its cropping shares and farm income. © 1998 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.