Corn is the most important food - but people need more than carbohydrates.




Official language

English and Chichewa


118.480 km²


About 17 Mio.

Population growth

3.1 % (533,675 inhabitants per year)

Rural population

14.4 Mio. (83.7 % of the total population)

Gross domestic product

USD 6.6 billion

Per capita annual income

USD 381

Share of agriculture in GDP

29.3 %

Severity of hunger, according to the Global Hunger Index

Serious (Value: 26.9 / Trend: -4.9)

Share of population suffering from malnutrition 

20.7 %

Human Development Index

Index: 0.445 / Rank: 173 of 188

Proportion of the population living on less than USD 1.25 a day

72.2 %

Poor farmland

Malawi is celebrated as the "warm heart of Africa." Although it has thus far been spared severe ethnic conflicts and civil wars, Malawi has traditionally numbered among the poorest countries in the world. In the United Nations Human Development Index, Malawi ranks 173rd out of 188 countries. Malawi has a gross domestic product (GDP) of USD 6.6 billion, which comes out to a per capita average of just over USD 380 a year. 


More than 90 percent of Malawi's population of around 17 million rely on agriculture, directly or indirectly, and agriculture accounts for about 29 percent of the GDP. Eighty-four percent of the population lives in rural and small farm structures. A farming family typically has no more than one hectare at its disposal, which they cultivate for their own consumption using rain-fed farming, buckets and hoes. Irrigation pumps and ox-drawn plows are still not widely used. Meager harvests frequently result in food shortages, which the government and development organizations try to alleviate with emergency aid. One fifth of the population is undernourished and particularly children under five suffer from malnutrition. Malawi's high population growth, low level of education and high HIV/AIDS infection rate are making the security of the good supply a growing challenge.


Cultivation and eating habits

The most important products grown in Malawi are corn, tobacco, tea and sugar. Corn is grown mainly for the farmers' own consumption. Only if there is a substantial surplus will this staple food be sold in the market, or exported to neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe. Malawians traditionally use corn to make a porridge called nsima, which is filling and provides energy, but is not particularly nutritious. Many people lack the variety of foods needed to absorb micronutrients and vitamins that are not found in corn. Farmers in Malawi also grow cassava, peanuts, soy, potatoes and, in isolated cases, rice. The vegetables grown are primarily pumpkin, okra, moringa, white cabbage, quinoa cabbage, tomatoes, onions and various bean varieties. Some of the vegetable harvest is consumed by the farmers themselves, and the rest is sold on the market. Few can afford meat and fish. Many small farmers do keep goats and other animals, but these mainly serve as an investment for hard times. Lake Malawi, which crosses the country from the north to the central region, is considered overfished.


Malawi's monocultures

The country's leading export is tobacco, which accounts for more than half of export revenues. Other "cash crops" include cotton, tea, coffee, spices and sugar. While these exports generate income for small farmers, they also make them dependent on fluctuations in global market prices. World market demand for tobacco has been down in recent years, leaving many small farmers unable to sell their products.


Where tobacco and corn dominate the field, there is hardly any room for other crops.


Where tobacco and corn dominate the field, there is hardly any room for other crops. Malnutrition begins in the field. Moreover, the one-sided focus on tobacco is exhausting the soil. Large sections of forest have been cut down in order to create more farmland and for firewood. As a result, the soil is easily washed away by heavy rain. Increasingly barren, the soil is unable to withstand droughts. Many native roots, fruits and medicinal plants have disappeared.


CORN AS CURRENCY It is customary for Malawian farmers to put away a few sacks of corn as a nest egg. This corn ensures that their families will have enough to eat if the harvest is weak. Day laborers are paid with corn and corn is bartered for other goods. But to buy things like seeds and fertilizer, a corn mill, salt, oil, clothing and household goods such as soap, farmers have to pay in cash. School tuition, medical care, transportation, home construction and home repairs also put a strain on households, most of which are low-income. In the future, it will be necessary to diversify Malawi's agricultural sector, which right now is all too focused on corn, in order to enable higher incomes.

Malawi's goal: food security

Malawi's government supports a diversified agricultural sector and the development of a processing industry. For example, oil seeds like sunflowers can be processed into cooking oil in Malawi. It is also of central importance to increase the diversity of Malawi's food supply, that is to improve the availability of and access to food groups other than corn, such as vegetables, legumes, fruit and meat, and to change dietary habits.  Mixed cultivation with various oilseeds and vegetables is therefore important so that the soil can recover, and to allow people in Malawi to have a more balanced diet.






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