Malawi - Country Commercial Guide
Agricultural Sector
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Agriculture accounts for more than one-quarter of Malawi’s gross domestic product.  The sector supports direct and indirect employment, economic growth, export earnings, poverty reduction, food security, and nutrition.  Turning the country’s agriculture sector into an engine of growth has been a long-term development goal for Malawi for many years.  Maize is the major food crop and is the focus of Malawi’s policy agenda, but tobacco has been and continues to be the dominant cash crop.  Tobacco is responsible for more than 40 percent of the country’s annual export earnings, with additional cash crops including dried legumes, sugar, tea, cotton, and nuts.  The government acknowledges that agricultural diversification is needed to grow the economy and provide increased food security.  Opportunities exist for cost-effective U.S. goods or technical knowledge that can be adapted for local agricultural conditions to boost crop quality, quantity, and diversification.

Leading Sub-Sectors

Leading sub-sectors in the agriculture industry in Malawi include tobacco, crop farming, livestock production, horticulture, fisheries and aquaculture, irrigation, and agro-processing.  Malawi’s desire to move away from reliance on rain-fed agriculture is opening opportunities for irrigation farming.


Potential investment opportunities in agriculture include livestock production (for dairy and beef), aquaculture, horticulture, agro-processing, sugar, soybean, cow peas, pork production, honey production, integrated cotton development, cassava production, and mushroom growing.  These agricultural products can be processed and exported under trading arrangements encompassing SADC, COMESA, and the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) SCHEME of the EU’s Everything but Arms (EBA) Initiative, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), China General Tariff Preferential Treatment, the India Preferential Trade Arrangement, the Japan Preferential Trade Arrangement, and the Africa-wide market via the AfCFTA.  

Irrigation: Malawi relies primarily on rain-fed agriculture.  Opportunities exist to expand and support irrigation and bolster horticultural products such as vegetables, flowers, fruits, and rice that can be grown using surface, gravity, pump, river diversion, drip, or sprinkler irrigation systems. 

Technology: Opportunities to provide agricultural products, equipment, processing machinery, and packaging exist in most agricultural subsectors.  Innovative agricultural technologies to improve yield and efficiency, and improve resiliency from extreme weather and climate change are needed.  Integrating private sector and smallholder farmers into sustainable agricultural practices and innovations will have the best chance of success and contribute to value addition and trade initiatives.  Opportunities in agro-processing, including cotton ginning and spinning, textile and garment manufacturing, fruit processing, fisheries and aquaculture, beef and dairy processing, leather processing, fisheries, horticulture, medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp, legumes, oil seed production, and production of sugar cane products also exist.  There are also opportunities in innovative technologies including use of modern ICT in data collection and transmission.

Fertilizer: Opportunities exist for U.S. companies to export fertilizer into Malawi or to set up local fertilizer production plants.  Malawi currently imports over 90 percent of its fertilizer, approximately 430,000 metric tons per year.