Economy of Malawi

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Malawi > Map Economy History

Malawi is a landlocked, densely populated country. Its economy is heavily dependent on agriculture. Malawi has few exploitable mineral resources. Its two most important export crops are tobacco and tea. Traditionally Malawi has been self-sufficient in its staple food, maize, and during the 1980s exported substantial quantities to its drought-stricken neighbors. Agriculture represents 36% of the GDP, accounts for over 80% of the labor force, and represents about 80% of all exports. Nearly 90% of the population engages in subsistence farming. Smallholder farmers produce a variety of crops, including maize (corn), beans, rice, cassava, tobacco, and groundnuts (peanuts). Financial wealth is generally concentrated in the hands of a small elite. Malawi's manufacturing industries are situated around the city of Blantyre.

Malawi's economic reliance on the export of agricultural commodities renders it particularly vulnerable to external shocks such as declining terms of trade and drought. High transport costs, which can comprise over 30% of its total import bill, constitute a serious impediment to economic development and trade. Malawi must import all its fuel products. Paucity of skilled labor; difficulty in obtaining expatriate employment permits; bureaucratic red tape; corruption; and inadequate and deteriorating road, electricity, water, and telecommunications infrastructure further hinder economic development in Malawi. However, recent government initiatives targeting improvements in the road infrastructure, together with private sector participation in railroad and telecommunications, have begun to render the investment environment more attractive.

Malawi has undertaken economic structural adjustment programs supported by the World Bank (IBRD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other donors since 1981. Broad reform objectives include stimulation of private sector activity and participation through the elimination of price controls and industrial licensing, liberalization of trade and foreign exchange, rationalization of taxes, privatization of state-owned enterprises, and civil service reform. Malawi qualified for Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) debt relief and is in the process of refining its Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Real GDP grew by 3.6% in 1999 and 2.1% in 2000. The government's monetary policy has been expansionary, and the average annual inflation has hovered around 30% in 2000 and 2001, keeping discount and commercial bank rates high (the discount rate was 47% in December 2000). In the second half of 2001, the Kwacha strengthened sharply against the U.S. dollar, moving from 80 to 60.

Malawi has bilateral trade agreements with its two major trading partners, South Africa and Zimbabwe, both of which allow duty-free entry of Malawian products into their countries. The government faces challenges such as the improvement of Malawi's educational and health facilities--particularly important because of the rising rates of HIV/AIDS--and environmental problems like deforestation, erosion, and overworked soils.

GDP: purchasing power parity - $9.4 billion (2000 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 2.1% (2000 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $900 (2000 est.)
GDP - composition by sector:
agriculture: 37%
industry: 29%
services: 34% (1998 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 29.5% (2000)
Labor force: 3.5 million
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture 86% (1997 est.)
revenues: $490 million
expenditures: $523 million, including capital expenditures of $NA (FY99/00 est.)
Industries: tobacco, tea, sugar, sawmill products, cement, consumer goods
Electricity - production: 1.025 billion kWh (1999)
Electricity - production by source:
fossil fuel:  2.44%
hydro:  97.56%
nuclear:  0%
other:  0% (1999)
Electricity - consumption: 950 million kWh (1999)
Agriculture - products: tobacco, sugarcane, cotton, tea, corn, potatoes, cassava (tapioca), sorghum, pulses; cattle, goats
Exports: $416 million (f.o.b., 2000)
Exports - commodities: tobacco, tea, sugar, cotton, coffee, peanuts, wood products
Exports - partners: South Africa 16%, Germany 16%, US 15%, Netherlands 7%, Japan (1999)
Imports: $435 million (f.o.b., 2000)
Imports - commodities: food, petroleum products, semimanufactures, consumer goods, transportation equipment
Imports - partners: South Africa 43%, Zimbabwe 14%, UK 5%, Germany 5%, Zambia, Japan, US (1999)
Debt - external: $2.9 billion (2000 est.)
Economic aid - recipient: $427 million (1999)
Currency: Malawian kwacha (MWK)

SOURCES: The World Factbook, U.S. Department of State

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Malawi > Map Economy History