New Policies to Help Transform Malawi’s Agriculture Sector

January 31, 2017


Agness Bowa admires quality pumpkins produced by a farmer at Chitedze in Lilongwe. The country's new agriculture policies support high-quality, high-value agricultural sector. 

Photo by: Zeria N. Banda/World Bank

  • With support from the World Bank and other donors, the Malawi government has been developing a new national agricultural policy to refocus smallholder subsistence farming to commercial approaches
  • Three policies have been developed to help strengthen the agriculture sector; the national agriculture policy, the revised national seed policy, and management guidelines for the strategic grain reserve
  • The national agriculture policy promotes commercialization to help sustain growth in the agriculture sector, which is the foundation of Malawi’s economy

LILONGWE, January 31, 2017 - Agriculture anchors Malawi’s economy, directly accounting for about one third of gross domestic product. Agriculture significantly contributes to employment, economic growth, export earnings, poverty reduction, food security, and nutrition.  Turning the country’s agriculture sector into a robust one is therefore a major development target for Malawi. To help achieve this, the country has been overhauling and developing new agriculture sector policies in the past few years through the Agriculture Sector Wide Approach Support Project (ASWAp-SP). ASWAp-SP is supported by the International Development Association, the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries, and other donors.

Three key agriculture sector policies have now been developed. These are the national agriculture policy, the revised national seed policy, and management guidelines for the strategic grain reserve.

“Collectively, through these policies we would like to transform the agriculture sector into a high performing one to improve food security and the fortunes of our farmers and the economy as a whole,” said Mrs Erica Maganga, Principal Secretary for Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, the ministry which is the custodian of agriculture policies in the country.

National Agriculture Policy (NAP)

The emphasis of this policy is commercialization as one way of promoting sustained growth in the agriculture sector. The policy will facilitate transition of farming communities from subsistence production to non-traditional high-value agricultural value chains that would ultimately result in wealth creation.

The NAP identifies a set of priority actions necessary for realizing this envisaged agricultural transformation. These areas are sustainable agricultural production and productivity; sustainable irrigation development; mechanization of agriculture; agricultural market development, agro-processing and value addition. With NAP, the government hopes for improved management of agricultural resources, increased agricultural exports and incomes, and improved food and nutrition security. Other NAP priority areas are empowerment of youth, women and vulnerable groups in agriculture; and institutional development, coordination and capacity strengthening.

As an overarching policy, the NAP has reconciled previous sub-sectoral policies that were incompatible with each other and outdated. The policy will also strengthen linkages between the agriculture sector and other sectors to ensure even better value is added to the economy’s growth through agriculture. The agriculture sector is also affected by a number of cross-cutting issues such as climate change, gender and youth. The NAP will help guide the agriculture sector’s operations in the face of all these issues.

Revised National Seed Policy

For Malawi to realize its goal of crop production and productivity, the quality of seed is an important factor. The country is currently operating under the National Seed Policy of 1993 and without a strategy. A revised seed policy has been developed and going through final approval stages. The new policy has been necessitated by the massive transformation in the seed sector which has seen numerous players coming into the seed industry.

“The new seed policy provides for the regulation and control of all seed issues, protects consumers and dealers and also promotes a responsible and productive seed industry, and defines the regulatory role of the government,” said Maganga.

The major focus of the revised seed policy is availability of adequate high quality seed and planting materials to the farming community.  It therefore addresses the challenges in the seed industry in the areas of research, production and quality control, imports and exports, marketing, distribution, all the while underscoring the important role both the public and private sectors could play in accelerating agricultural and forestry development through the seed industry. The policy also provides for the building up of strategic seed reserves.

“The new seed policy will help strengthen the agro-dealer layer between us farmers and the large seed companies resulting in improved local availability and affordability of inputs,” said Kettie Menyere, a 30 year old female small-scale commerical farmer who grows maize, soya, and groundnuts in Kasungu district.

Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR) Management Guidelines

Maize is the major grain that constitutes food security in Malawi. To cushion the country against maize production deficits, government established the strategic grain reserve overseen by the National Food Reserve Agency. Overtime, a number of emerging issues have necessitated the review of guidelines to address gaps in the current system and improve management of the SGR.

The revised guidelines require enhancing the country’s early warning system for better preparedness, early release of funds to procure grain during the harvesting period; a 14 member committee to oversee drawing down of maize and has specified circumstances to trigger drawing down both in emergency and non-emergency circumstances. Issues of grain storage, quality control, and recycling of stock are also detailed in the guidelines. These guidelines shall be reviewed every five years. 

Overall, government developed the policies and guidelines through consultative processes and also took cognizance of various international instruments Malawi is signatory to, to ensure harmony with international practice.