Strategic Options for Agriculture and Development in Malawi

Andrew Dorward and Ephraim Chirwa 

This paper considers potential strategic options for agriculture and development in Malawi in the context of the country’s current situation and the prospects the country faces. After briefly reviewing current national and sectoral policy and potential roles of smallholder agriculture in economic growth, we set out the current situation in order to consider strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

We conclude that a major emphasis is needed on supporting changes that reduce the rate of population growth and promote capacity for adaptation and resilience to climate change. Rapid increases in the productivity of agricultural land and labor and in rural incomes will be critical to this, alongside increased education and empowerment of girls and women. There are, however, difficult potential trade-offs to negotiate (for example, between increased irrigation and
reduced inflows into Lake Malawi) and these need further consideration.

From this analysis we derive a set of nine strategic principles and two operational principles, for eleven in total, that we suggest could helpfully stimulate and guide strategy development to address the opportunities and threats facing Malawian agriculture, as follows:
Strategic principles:
1. Sustainable investments and activities that are viable for and acceptable to all stakeholders.
2. Emphasis on land and wider labor productivity
3. Integration of complementary agricultural and non-agricultural strategies, policies, and investments.
4. Emphasis on broad-based and inclusive growth.
5. Emphasis on increased quality and diversity in food production.
6. Emphasis on market access and affordability of food for all, particularly for the rural and urban poor.
7. Promotion of sustainable practices with accumulation, rather than depletion, of natural resources, taking account of both current and future threats to sustainability.
8. Rapid achievement of broad-based growth as a significant element in reducing the rate of population growth and in supporting climate change adaptation and resilience.
9. Pursuit of agro-processing opportunities to promote value addition with local downstream linkages.
Operational principles:
10. Consistent coordinated vision.
11. Clear priorities and roles.

The application of these principles is illustrated by indicative consideration of policy and investment options focusing on the development of different commodities and broadly-defined resources. Consistent implementation of coordinated and consistent sectoral and inter-sectoral policies to support smallholder agriculture development is critical for achievement of the desired growth and diversification impacts. A number of concrete and immediate policy and investment recommendations are made.

Source / Citation: 

Dorward, A. R., and E. Chirwa. "Strategic options for agriculture and development in Malawi," MASSP Working Paper No. 13, March 2015.