Malawi takes an integrated approach to food security, environmental sustainability and poverty reduction

Sustainable agriculture is a key to unlocking Malawi’s economic development and poverty reduction efforts. The agriculture sector accounts for 30% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 17% of household incomes comes from agriculture produce, according to a new study issued by the joint UN Development Programme (UNDP)-United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Poverty-Environment Initiative Malawi. The study points out that agricultural productivity is significantly below potential yields due to reduced soil fertility and soil erosion driven by unsustainable and changing land use practices as well as climate change.

In Malawi the average soil loss rate is 29 tons per hectare per year. A separate study by UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that soil loss reduces the country’s agricultural productivity by 6%. If soil erosion was significantly reduced and lost agriculture yields recovered, approximately 1.88 million people would have been lifted out of poverty between 2005 and 2015.

Agricultural productivity is also below potential yields due to gender-based inequalities between women and men as well as between the young and the old in access to and control of productive and financial resources. If the gender gap in agriculture productivity would be closed 238,000 people could be lifted out of poverty, crop production increase by 7.3% and GDP by 100 million every year, according to a report issued in 2015 by UN Women, UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative and The World Bank. Young farmers have been found to be up to 3% less productive than their older counterparts.

Linking the Sustainable Development Goals

The findings from the studies by the Poverty-Environment Initiative and its partners clearly demonstrate that to achieve food security (Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2) by increasing agricultural productivity sustainable ecosystems and natural resource management (SDG 15) - and gender equality (SDG 5) is essential. It also highlights that an inclusive and sustainable agriculture is key to achieve poverty reduction (SDG 1) and economic growth (SDG 8). A changing climate means that there is a shrinking window of opportunity for action, and it is imperative that climate smart approaches (SDG 13) to agriculture helps close the poverty and gender gap and promote societal resilience to shocks.

“I see [The Cost of the Gender Gap in Agricultural Productivity in Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda] report as a strong tool to use to inform policy and strategies that can enhance productivity in Malawi. It is also an important tool for us as a ministry to begin to translate the Sustainable Development Goals, and more specifically Goal 1, on eradicating extreme poverty for all people,” said H.E. Dr. Allan Chiyembekeza, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development. 


Policy Action at the National Level

Understanding these linkages and the urgency to act the Government of Malawi has with technical support from the Poverty-Environment Initiative and other partners adopted a new National Agricultural Policy that takes an integrated approach to agricultural development.

The agriculture policy promotes investments in climate-smart agriculture and sustainable land and water management, including integrated soil fertility management, irrigation and sustainable use of agrobiodiversity. The policy has a strong focus on empowering the youth, women and vulnerable groups in agriculture with a view to close gender gaps. This will be achieved by promoting access to, ownership and control of productive and financial resources and enhanced opportunities for entrepreneurship and participation in agriculture value addition. The policy also recognize the particular role that the Ministry of Natural Resources Energy and Mining can play to  promote sustainable management of land and natural resources, in collaboration with the Ministry responsible for Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development to ensure that increased agricultural production does not negatively affect the utilization of the environment and its natural resources.

“The new agriculture policy has new innovations that appreciate agriculture as a key to economic progress by further promoting irrigation and empowering smallholder farmers through gradually moving towards mechanization,” said H.E. Dr. George Chaponda, former Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.

The four studies addressing agricultural productivity and poverty reduction are:

UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative Malawi, 2016. Overcoming Poverty in Malawi through Sustainable Environment and Natural Resource Management: Identifying Policy Options to Accelerate Poverty Reduction

UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative Malawi, 2011. Economic Analysis of Sustainable Natural Resource Use in Malawi

UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative Malawi and FAO, 2016. Soil Loss Assessment in Malawi

UN Women, UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative Malawi and The World Bank. 2015. The Cost of the Gender Gap in Agricultural Productivity in Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda


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