Find Agriculture expertise in Malawi
Agriculture is fundamental to the economy and livelihood of Malawi, with around 11 million people engaged in subsistence farming (2012). Agricultural yield is vital to the country, as agriculture, forestry and fisheries contribute 30% of GDP and account for 90% of exports (2010). Only around a third of land is suitable for cultivation due to the mountains, forests and rough pastures, yet, taking all aspects into account, agricultural land constitutes 59.1% of total land area (2009). The majority of the people farm on a small scale although there is also a substantial commercial farming sector. Small-scale farmers usually have less than a hectare of land, and are limited by declining soil fertility and limited access to credit services.
The main cash crops are coffee, cotton, tea and tobacco. Other produce includes sugar cane, rubber, macadamia nuts, soya, rice and maize, the country’s staple food. The government has subsidised improved seed varieties and fertiliser since 2005, which resulted in several years of surplus maize production. Animals are not farmed on a large scale. The commercial farming sector is largely concentrated on large estates in the south and around Lilongwe, and focus on tobacco production. Tobacco alone accounts for more than 60% of export earnings and takes up around 4% of farmland, generating US$874,904,000 in 2010. The liberalisation of the industry in the 1990s saw steady increases in profits for growers, alongside a significant growth in smallholder tobacco production, placing Malawi at the forefront of tobacco production at a global level. The next most important cash crop is tea, which brought in US$120,878,000 in 2010, retaining Malawi’s position as the second largest producer in Africa. The country’s main export destination is South Africa, followed by Egypt, Zimbabwe, the United States, the Netherlands and Germany. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security is responsible for agriculture at a federal level.
In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report (2012-13) Malawi placed 109th in the world in terms of its balanced agricultural policy costs, with a value of 3.5 out of 7, below the world mean of 3.9.
The tobacco industry, key to the agricultural sector, faces problems of overproduction, which are being tackled by the government through the introduction of a quota system to regulate production, increase quality and reduce supply. The state and other players in the industry are increasingly looking to diversify away from tobacco, protecting the country’s biodiversity at the same time. The government has put efforts into encouraging cotton production, whilst the European Union is supporting production of sugarcane and coffee and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is encouraging honey production.
The Greenbelt initiative in the country is working to irrigate 1 million hectares of land within 20km of the country’s three lakes and 13 rivers, in order to reduce farmers’ dependence on rain-fed agriculture and vulnerability to drought. The initiative has encouraged some farmers to group together, use organic manure, construct ridges to collect rain water and adopt improved plant spacing.