Agricultural Transformation in Malawi: Call to Action

November 12, 2020 - Author: Ronald Mangani, <>, Peter Hazell, Milu Muyanga, Sloans Chimatiro, William J. Burke & Michael Johnson

Mangani, R., Jayne, T.S., Hazell, P., Muyanga, M.Chimatiro, S., Burke, W.J., Johnson, M. (2020).  Agricultural Transformation in Malawi: Call to Action, Research Paper 1, MwAPATA Institute.


This background paper seeks to accomplish three tasks. First, it highlights the urgent need for real change in Malawiʼs economic management and performance. Current trends in economic and population growth against a fixed land area suggest that a “business as usual” approach to economic management is unsustainable as farmland holdings continue to decline while poverty and other socio-economic indicators continue to deteriorate. A reversal of these trends is a matter of urgency. Nothing can be done to increase Malawiʼs total land area and, at least in the near-term, a significant reversal in the population trend is unlikely. This heightens the urgency for national policy interventions that catalyze and sustain high levels of economic productivity and growth to avoid a grim fate.

Second, the paper highlights the policy interventions that Malawi could adopt in order to achieve significant economic development. Studies have argued that the economy ought to grow by at least 6 percent per annum over a period of several decades to meaningfully reverse the deteriorating socio-economic trends. The paper uses the results of two computable general equilibrium model simulations to interrogate Malawiʼs growth trends and requirements. Drawing on the agricultural-led development experiences of the global community, this paper argues that a comprehensive transformation of the agricultural sector that reduces its heavy reliance on tobacco and develops strong, market-based linkages between agriculture and industry could be pivotal in achieving the necessary economic growth.

Finally, the paper addresses the more difficult question of how the necessary transformation may be brought about. It makes the case for assembling a “coalition of the willing” to champion this change, argues for the generation of evidence to inform the policy formulation process, and emphasizes the significant role of the State in policy formulation and implementation, and in mobilizing players towards common goals. On this aspect, too, the paper draws on the experiences of the global community ‒ including several African countries where top-level political leadership has been the main driver for change. This brings to the fore the associated question of whether leadership can effectively be an agent of change in Malawiʼs democratic dispensation. The various roles that other key stakeholders can play are also highlighted.



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