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In profile: Malawi

As part of an ongoing series, we look at Malawi and its progress towards achieving the SDGs.

Capital: Lilongwe

Population: c.18 million

Malawi ranks 170 out of 187 in the Human Development Index, and rural poverty has increased to 57% of the population in the past decade – 85% of the population live in rural areas. The economy is very dependent on agriculture, and has often relied upon outside aid to meet development needs. In recent years, the economy has improved and dependence on development aid has decreased – but there are still many challenges facing this country.

The population is anticipated to rise to 30 million by 2030, doubling in a very short period, giving Malawi one of the highest population densities in the world. This is likely to lead to extreme pressure on the available resources, including land and services.

Climate change has adversely affected the region, and is expected to continue to do so; it is increasingly prone to droughts and flooding. Flooding in 2014/15 and drought in 2016 (followed by an outbreak of armyworms) led to mass destruction of the corn needed for both economy and nutrition.

Progress towards the SDGs

Malawi currently has a sustainable development goal (SDG) global ranking of 140th out of 156 countries, performing 5.3% lower than the regional average. It has achieved one of the SDGS (on climate change), but is currently not on track to achieve any of the others by 2030. For some of the goals, the score has moderately increased (zero hunger, gender equality, and decent work and economic growth) while there are major challenges facing the SDG for peace, justice, and strong institutions.

Malawi is currently focusing on a five-year (2017-2022) growth and development strategy looking at education, energy, agriculture, health, and tourism. This is the third stage of the five-stage Malawi Growth and Development Strategy.

Development challenges

The government’s overarching policy objectives are to improve national economic development and reduce poverty – to do so, they have highlighted five priority areas: agriculture and climate change management, education and skills development, health and population management, energy and industrial development, and transport and ICT infrastructure development.

Meanwhile, USAID have identified three interlocking development objectives: social development improved (including increasingly quality and availability of social services), sustainable livelihoods increased, and citizen rights and responsibilities exercised.

These and other areas that development organisations and the government have identified as priorities are below.

  • Productive and climate-smart agriculture

Growth in the vital agricultural sector could be aided through private sector development, leading to economic growth and equitable distribution. Similarly, reallocating resources for the introduction of climate-smart agriculture and investments in irrigation and water management, as well as diversifying to more commercial agriculture, will benefit this sector and the vulnerable Malawians who depend on it.

  • Better and more widespread energy supply

A fragile power supply has severely affected small- and medium-sized enterprises, as erratic rains lead to widespread blackouts. Only 10% of the population have access to electricity, limiting opportunities outside of the farming sector.

  • Improved education and health outcomes

DFID have identified the need for ‘addressing poverty and inequality through investment in education, health, agriculture, water, and sanitation with an emphasis on the rights of girls and women’. Primary school completion rose from 58% in 2004 to 75% in 2013, but there remains room for improvement.

Health outcomes are often poor in Malawi, with high infant mortality rates and a high rate of HIV/AIDS in adults (an estimated 9% of the population are living with the disease). There are signs that programmes have led to improvement, though, particularly with infant mortality – which has nearly halved in the past few years.

  • More transparent, accountable, and efficient governance

Poor governance means the country continues to be at the risk of instability, even with an improving economy. Corruption remains prevalent post-‘Cashgate’, with Malawi ranking at 122nd out of 180 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2017.

Increased accountability and responsiveness in governance can help create transparent leadership, and specific governance challenges can be more immediately tackled. (For example, Malawi can address its overreliance on maize and remove export bans, as these inhibit production and investment.) Transparency and accountability remain a challenge in Malawi. Traditional approaches to strengthening accountability through empowerment programmes have met with only limited success. New approaches are being considered by a number of actors. Strengthening Malawi’s public sector institutions is also crucial for implementing any policy reforms.