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1985 ANNUAL REPORT FROM THE SOCIAL SCIENCE COMPONENT
BEAN/COWPEA CRSP MALAWI PROJECT
I. SOCIAL SCIENCE FIELD REPORT
Socio-cultural research in the Bean/Cowpea CRSP Malawi project has
concentrated on understanding the farming systems of northern Malawi,
especially as the socio-cultural factors relate to the maintenance of bean
diversity. Specific objectives are:
1. To identify fundamental factors in the small farm agricultural systems
which support genetic diversity in the Malawi bean population.
2. To analyze the inter-relationships among these factors.
3. To contribute to an understanding of the degrees of freedom within the
system which can support change.
Analyses of data from farm family observations and surveys administer
the population in this region are the basis for the information which make
Data Base of This Report
Throughout the year, there are many variations in the demands on the
smallholder farming system as well as among the environmental and social
resources available to address those demands. Thus, the information generated
by this study was analyzed by month and organized so as to bring out the unique
elements among the three growing seasons of the region. These seasons are
roughly the four months in the periods November to February, March to June and
July to October.
All data were not received from the field at the writing of this report.
Unfortunately, among the data which were received, there were none for the
month of November, expected to be a very important one in the agricultural
cycle. Until those data are in, findings must be interpreted with caution.
A description of the methodology generating the data is available elsewhere
(see Technical Report No. 1) and therefore will be omitted from this report.
-Population Sample of This Report
There were 75 families from the northern region of Malawi that made up the
population under study. These families were comprised of 460 persons whose
gender and age distribution are shown in the chart below.
Research Population of Northern Malawi by Age and Gender
0-9 Years 10-19 Years 20-39 Years 40 and Above Total
Male 55 79 45 37 216
Female 64 73 67 40 244
Total 119 152 112 77 460
In the questionnaires, where persons did not give responses to questions,
analyses were based on the number that did respond. In the observations,
persons away from the research site were recorded as engaged in activity as
reported by the respondents.
All crops have among their major challenges, evolving varieties
appropriate for a season's soil and air moisture. In addition, a crop needs
to have a growth cycle that is coordinated with labor availability sufficient
to meet cultivation requirements. That is, crop varieties must have a growth
cycle which readies them for harvest at a point during the dry period when
competition for harvesting labor by other more important crops does not
adversely affect their yield (labor for weeding at critical periods is also a
For example, introduction of the longer season hybrid maize has conflicted
with what has traditionally been the largest bean production season. Some of
the women report that this situation is responsible for delayed bean harvest-
ing. Such a delay can support heavy pest and insect damage in the field which
results in severely reduced yield. The labor constraint during, and immediately
following, the rainy season is also strongly influenced in Malawi by the high
rates of illness and death among the farm family members who provide most of the
In addition to regular food production, there are strict regulations for the
growing of the region's major cash crop (coffee) which also must be considered.
Under the direction of the Smallholder Coffee Authority, many of the families
cultivate a limited number of coffee trees and sell the cherries to the
Authority as a source of family income. The information reported suggests that
in many ways agricultural, climatic and socio-cultural constraints are
interrelated. General information on the climate and cropping seasons in the
region of this study is presented in the next four pages.
Bean Cropping Seasons in the Northern Zone of Malawi
Crop Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct
Maize Traditional variety
Beans Wet season (limited
Dry season (largest
Coffee The major cash crop in this zone
Managed under the Malawi Smallholder Coffee Authority
- - M up to 2,000m
- - P/N beqinninq at
0 0 ,
100 d0 0,
Z 30 40
J A SO N D J F M A M J -----------------------
Source: Adaptcd from Anthony Young and Dorccn M. Young. A GC'egraphy (if M ila.
wi. L.ondon, 1964. p. 20.
Mean Annual Rainfall and Tempcraturc. Malawi
Region of the study was Musuku Hills (M) south to Mphompa/Nchenachena
(P/N) area. Most of the M families report getting three cropping seasons a
year; most P/N families report getting only two.
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Farm Family Health
As previously mentioned, among the resources especially important in the
subsistence farming system is health. Labor demands are strenuous and the time
The chart below gives data from the researchers on the rainfall observed
weighted by half-days. The pattern of spontaneous reports of illnesses and
deaths in relation to the weather reported by the recorders' was striking with
most of the reports of illness toward the end of the rainy season. Their
reports of dampness (see high humidity level in previous charts) and water
problems inside some of the households, where sometimes there was no dry place
to sit, suggests why this relationship may exist. Death reports appear to
follow the same pattern with the least rain, least illnesses and least deaths
occurring together within the cycle.
Health in Relation to Observed Rain by Month, 1984
Reported by One Observation Group
Wt'd Observed Rains
(in days) Family Illness Reported De<
Farm Family Activity
The first analysis by season was done on the family activities performed
within the farming system. It was anticipated that this analysis would
illuminate critical farm family stress points. Knowledge of these stress
points would assist in understanding the adaptive features of the present
system and in the development of technological interventions. Such interven-
tions then could fit the system better and might more readily become accepted
by the farm family. Farm family activity was observed in the categories of
agriculture, child care, domestic, economic, personal and social. Age and
gender were important in all data aggregation.
The issue of gender contributions is especially interesting when viewed
from the perspective of the family unit as well as from the perspective of
individual member's responsibilities. First, the major categories of basic
survival activity important to the family unit were analyzed: agriculture,
domestic (excluding child care) and economic.
For all but three (February, May and June) of the eleven months for which
data were available, the male/female partnership generated nearly equal total
activity across these categories (categories added together). That is, in nine
of the eleven months, there was less than a two-hour daily differentials in
activity between males and females. There were much larger gender differences
among and within the categories however.
The chart below shows the importance of this adult partnership. Children's
activities (ages 0-9) were omitted when it was found that their numbers con-
founded the data. Activity in all categories will be analyzed separately for
this age group when the remaining data are in and the sample size is thus large
enough to report.
Average Hours of Activity
Average Hours of Activity
in the Categories Given by Gender
Gender Ag Dom
NA NA NA
M 4.3 1.2
F 3.2 4.6
M 4.1 1.3
F 3.1 4.7
M 4.6 1.2
F 3.3 4.6
M 3.9 1.9
F 2.8 4.9
M 4.0 1.2
F 3.9 4.0
M 2.1 1.0
F 1.8 4.1
M 1.6 1.0
F 1.3 3.0
M 1.3 2.1
F 1.9 3.4
M 4.1 2.5
F 3.0 4.7
M 4.0 3.3
F 2.3 4.9
M 4.5 1.9
F 1.9 7.3
A further analysis within these categories enabled a report of what, on the
average, engaged the adults of the family team by month as observed or reported
on the days the homesite was visited.
per Observation Day
and Month (age 0-9 omitted)
Econ Total Grand Total
NA NA NA
1.6 9.4) 19.0
3.1 10.9) 21.6
3.7 11.6) 21.4
3.4 11.1) 21.0
2.4 10.3) 18.9
3.1 9.0) 14.7
3.4 7.7) 13.1
2.9 8.2) 15.2
3.7 11.4) 23.5
3.7 10.9) 22.5
2.6 11.8) 23.6
In agriculture, both the males and the females were heavily engaged in
plowing as well as planting, although the males were mostly occupied
with the cash crops.
In domestic, the females were heavily occupied with routine food processing
and preparation, including hauling water and wood for various domestic
needs. A brief review of the chart suggests there is a basic level
of activity in this category continuously required by the household,
below which labor cannot fall.
In economics, the males were engaged in selling and buying during this
In agriculture, the chores of December continued, but the major demands for
both males and females were weeding (again for the males, mostly the
cash crops). In addition, the females continued heavy planting
In domestic, the heavy domestic demands continued for the females.
In economics, males were active in wage work as well as continued selling
and buying. Females at a somewhat lower level were also active in
In agriculture, the males were observed clearing land for the upcoming
season. Both males and females were still actively weeding the
previous crops and were still continuing to plant. By this month
females were observed actively harvesting some of their crop.
In domestic, the previous pattern remained.
In economics, there was a clear increase in female buying and decrease in
male buying during this period. Wage work for males decreased but
still was reported at a level much higher than that of females, which
dropped precipitiously this month.
In agriculture, males continued land clearing. Both males and females were
also observed ridging. Mostly males were planting while both partners
were weeding. Females continued some harvesting.
In domestic, the gender pattern continued.
In economics, the previous level of buying and selling was only slightly
changed with wage labor for males dropping to equal females.
In agriculture, there was a sizeable increase in ridging by females, even
surpassing that observed of males. Females also took over the level
of planting activity observed of males in March. Both partners
continue to weed as harvesting by females began a steady climb.
In domestic, again there was little change.
In economics, the pattern was slightly lower than the previous month for
both males and females.
In agriculture, there was a significant drop in all categories except
harvesting, which increased for both partners.
In domestic, the pattern was largely unchanged.
In economics, males showed a large increase in wage work while females
remained at about their previous level.
The total level of activity across all categories dropped significantly
this month, a pattern which continued over the next two months as well. This
three-month period will be referred to throughout the rest of this paper as
the period of "rest and recuperation" or R&R, which is such only relative to
the high level of work recorded in the other months.
This month showed the lowest level of activity across all categories.
In agriculture, the females were engaged in the greatest amount of
harvesting. A small number of males were observed preparing land
perhaps for dimba (residual moisture) gardens.
In domestic, the female activity was at its lowest while the male
maintained his lower level.
In economics, the pattern changed only slightly from the month before with
the wage work for males decreasing and females increasing.
Although still comparatively low, the general level of family activity was
on the rise this month.
In agriculture, there was a present but even smaller involvement of males
in land preparation than the month before. No one was seen planting
except a very small number of females with dimba gardens which had
been prepared by the males. Harvesting continued at a high rate for
In domestic, male participation began to rise as over the next few months
males were observed molding bricks, building pit latrines, thatching
roofs and otherwise preparing the household for the return of the
rainy season. Female activity also rose.
In economics, there was a large increase in male participation in wage
agriculture, male harvesting reached its highest level. Female
harvesting also continued although at a slightly lower level. Both
cash and food crops were involved.
domestic, male participation continued to increase as did female.
economics, there was the greatest amount of monthly male and female
activity, undoubtedly related to the sale of the harvest.
In agriculture, harvesting continued but little else in this category.
In domestic, male participation was at its highest. Female activity also
increased and maintained itself at a level greater than that of the
In economics, both partners were active with female activity holding steady
from the month before.
In agriculture, with this last month of the dry season, the male and female
participation in land clearing was at its height, with males more
active in this chore than females. Males were also observed to start
their planting again, not so the females.
In domestic, the male participation dropped dramatically while the female
participation was extremely high, undoubtedly reflecting the
processing of the harvest and the completion of home improvements
(e.g., "smearing," as in whitewashing, with a special clay the
structures built or repaired previously by the males).
In economic, wage work continued at a high level but highest for females.
Buying activity was high for males.
It was demonstrated that the significant partnership involves not only
subsistence production but also the cash crop production and wage labor
contributed by both males and females. The extent and distribution of labor
among the adult members of the farm family suggest the importance of timing
and the significance of the male/female partnership in total successful farm
Preliminary Findings from Bean Field Measurements Data
The chart below gives the preliminary field measurements data for the
families from whom information was received. Pacing the fields and counting
the average plants, pods and seeds, data from the recorders were used to
calculate the average yield potential for those families (yield if none were
lost to pests, diseases or processing). These potential yield figures fit
within the range of yield reported by the Bunda College team growing the beans
from this region under irrigation in Malawi.
Preliminary Findings from Field Measurements Form
Number of ridges
Ridge width range
(M Families) Most
Bunda Report Collected
Germplasm Grown Under
Average plants per
foot on ridge
Plant density (b)
Plant density (b)
Plant density (b)
Acres per field
Number of fields
Pods per plant (b)
Seeds per pod
yield per field
yield per acre
) 1.46 total
@ 50 grams/cwt
< .5 ha holdings
@ 50 grams/cwt
Throughout the analyses of data, a conversion factor of 600 cups to the
acre was used because those interviewed reported getting, on the average, about
575 cups per acre. The figure seems quite low and may reflect a concern on the
part of those interviewed about letting it be known how much there really was.
This problem has been highlighted by the field team in their diaries and in
correspondence. On the other hand, from the bean observation sheets the
recorders' figures for pace-measured bean fields where beans were growing in
pure stands in the dry season compared with later cups in storage from those
fields suggested a yield of around 1,000 cups per acre or 250 pounds. Given
the likely loss to pests over the four to six month period these beans must
last, the likely smaller yield when beans are grown with maize and other
foodstuffs in the rainy season and yields by some of the most limited resource
farmers of less than 100 cups/acre, an average of 600 cups or 150 pounds seems
a reasonable compromise.
Observation of Farm Family Beans
At each visit the recorders attempted to assess the whereabouts and
condition of all of the family's beans. These data again are reported only as
general trends because of the absence of the final recordings and any data at
all for the month of November. Nonetheless, the following findings are of
The greatest number of beans were observed growing in the fields in the
months of May and June. The greatest amount observed in storage were in the
months of August and September. The co-variation between these two conditions
is worthy of attention. As shown in the chart below, for the most part with
an increase in beans growing, there was a decrease in beans in storage. This
suggested, as expected, that people were eating from and perhaps selling from
their stocks. It is likely these numbers also reflected a loss to pests over
time. As beans growing decreased, beans in storage increased, reinforcing,
again as expected, that at least some of the harvest was placed into storage.
Total Beans Observed in Households by Month (in cups)
Being Planted Growing*
-- 279 610
The size of the stored beans seen in August versus that seen in July, in
relation to the planting month figures, suggests that during this dry season,
bean harvest may be delayed perhaps in favor of other more demanding chores.
Final analysis of these data will clarify this issue.
Another general observation was that as beans in storage increased so too
did beans cooked and beans held as leftovers. Incidently, in these incomplete
*Conversion Factor of 600 Cups/Acre Was Used
data the smallest amounts of beans observed as leftovers (suggesting the time
of the smallest amount cooked and thus eaten) was during the months of May,
June and July when there was also the least amount of beans in storage. This
was also the period of the least demands on the labor pool. These apparent
correlates suggest that if new technology can make better use of this "rest and
recuperation" time period, attention will have to be given to the availability
of food, especially maize, the staple in the country. Interestingly, produc-
tion of the preferred traditional maize yields early enough to contribute to
this time period. The hybrid varieties, pushed hard by the extension service,
do not. This may help explain the resistance of Malawi farmers to discontinu-
ing their production of traditional maize as urged strongly by the extension
Pre- and Post-Harvest Crop Management
The following findings were generated by the questionnaires administered
to get a further idea of how the bean crop is managed.
Most of the women indicated they do, in fact, select beans for planting.
They select for viability, removing the rotten ones which they say can't grow.
In addition, they list the following (not prioritized) as selection criteria:
1. High yield
2. Remove climbers which are easily eaten by rats (mentioned by several)
3. Adapted to a lot of water, doesn't rot easily
4. Matures quickly
5. Keeps vegetables (leaves) a long time without getting hard
6. To reduce labor and time
7. Disease resistant
8. Easy weeding
9. Good taste/smell
10. Cooks fast
11. For selling, has weight
On the other hand, the problems which plagued the chosen varieties were
1. Dispersed in the garden (shattered)
2. Less yield due to high rainfall
3. Beans eaten by rats, birds and wild animals
4. Too much rain during drying--germinated, became rotten
5. Leaf eaters destroyed them
6. Leaves shriveled
7. Insects ate beans in pod
8. Stem eaters a problem
In 1985, as in previous years, the women reported they mostly still sorted
the varieties of their seed. This is even though the government policy has
been changed to give the same price to sorted and mixed lots. When asked why,
1. Stomach problems 1. All hard and not caught by weevils
2. Some rot quickly 2. Too much labor required
3. Caught by weevils because not hard 3. Saves time not to sort
4. Easy grading for selling or cooking 4. Grows only one kind
5. Easy for planting--some cook easily,
others ripen quickly
The question was then asked what do they do with strange beans that turn
up. The women responded as follows:
1. Select them out by cooking and eating them or by
a. Cooking and eating them
b. Throwing them away or leaving them in the field
2. Store for next planting
Most of them indicated they would leave the strange bean with the others.
In light of this, they were asked if they would plant one type that was high
yielding even if it were not a type preferred and secondly would they continue
to plant mixtures. Most responded yes to both questions although nearly as
many others answered yes they would plant a non-preferred high yielder and
would not continue to plant mixtures as well. Thus, it is apparent that, with
planting seed frequently mentioned as a constraint to greater bean planting,
the women would welcome improved seed. Perhaps as risk avoiding behavior,
however, most would also continue to plant their mixtures.
Loss of yield potential is critical and apparently, from the preliminary
field measurements presented earlier in this paper, is very severe. Selecting
appropriate planting seed appears to be an important element in responding to
this problem. It is significant that most of the women indicated that yield
was important to them. They even agreed that yield was the major reason they
would continue to grow hard-to-cook varieties even though these hard-to-cook
varieties would make more work for them. If the yield is high enough, it is
likely these will be the ones chosen for sale.
"Keepability" of cooked beans may be especially important in the months of
heavy labor demands when more water, more wood, more fire-tending are avoided.
Perhaps women can appease "hard work induced hunger" demands by being able to
have acceptable leftovers (beans that don't get too mushy). This is especially
important since, as reported earlier, the women make a sizeable contribution
in the strenuous labor demands of the system when the timing is critical (e.g.,
Cooked on the average of three times per week, 5.5 cups per cooking, beans
were reported eaten, on the average, five times per week. With an average
family size of six to eight, this means about one-half cup of beans per person
each of the five bean meals per week. Eating them at this rate, a family needs
to produce in take-home yield a minimum of around 300 cups of beans per four-
month season (or 75-100 pounds). At the present estimated yield level of
around 1,000 cups (or 250 pounds) per acre when grown in pure stands (the
common practice in the dry season), the average family could manage with only
a half-acre in beans in the March season, in addition to a larger November
associated planting, if the family had access to a dimba garden (residual
moisture garden in low-lying areas or areas on river banks) of comparable size.
Without a dimba garden, however, it would be much more difficult than needing
a March season harvest of twice the volume. The large amount that would likely
be lost in storage over the eight-month period before the next harvest is in
would require an initial amount of considerable size.
Without a dimba garden, the family with larger March planting acreage could
likely get through the "R&R" period but would have to go into the heavy work
season of the November-December planting period with limited bean supply. This
may indeed contribute to the health problems reported earlier.
The respondents indicated a clear preference for indicated varieties,
including ones preferred for dimba gardens. These responses will be checked
against the bean observation sheets to see if what was said was actually done.
While some of the respondents indicated they never sell beans, most of them
reported having sold beans within the last year. Conversely, while a few of
the women bought beans, most indicated they never buy them. Of those that did
buy them, they reported they:
1. Bought them for planting, seldom for eating even when they ran out of
2. Tended to buy back the same varieties they had sold
3. Bought back a fewer number than they had sold
Selling fruits and vegetables, including beans, is a major source of funds
reported by nearly all of the women. In addition, a number of them reported
selling coffee as a source of funds. A few indicated selling beer.
Another source of funds for the families was off-farm employment. Many of
the families indicated they had members so engaged, both males and females
although males outnumbered females in outside employment.
Many of the families, in turn, hired others to assist at peak labor
periods. Of those that did, most hired others to do ridging, a particularly
strenuous job. A number also hired persons to help with weeding. Most paid
their helpers in wages, although some paid in maize, room and board or help-in-
kind. The hiring of outside labor did not appear to be related to family size.
This information and the other above generated from the questionnaires
administered to the families will be compared with the family activity
observation sheets to assess the extent to which what was reported matched
with what was observed (or reported on the day of observation).
Some of the interrelationships among the components of the system are
beginning to emerge. For example, as men and women increase their home
improvement activity, the demands on the woman may increase for such normal
support services as water to be hauled to the home site for the home improve-
ment chore. During the month of October, which is the last month of the dry
season, women were also observed boiling water much more than any other month
during the year. Is this related to the low level of water in wells and rivers
which is perhaps getting brackish? Although the government has installed a
laudable pipe system in the country, the nearest source of water to most of the
families in this mountainous region was a natural one.
The overall picture of labor utilizaton suggests a very finely tuned
system. This system will likely resist changes disrupting the balance of the
total family output in the major categories of activity unless, of course,
those changes will result in an overall major increase in family resources such
as was the case with the introduction of coffee. For those interested in crop
improvement, especially in beans as an important family resource, the greatest
contribution would appear to be in yield stability, a condition presently
sought by the farmers through mixtures.
Another factor evident from the data is the virtual continuous harvesting
of beans for those with access to three seasons. The importance of temporal
distribution of seed yield, especially in relation to vegetable (leaf) yield
over a period of time, was emphasized. At this point it is unclear how the
lengthened production period contributes to the economic versus consumption
needs of the family. From their reports, it appears that there are small but
significant fluctuations in bean prices which may be affected by the production
of more beans over a longer period. In addition, what may reinforce the
existence of mixtures in this scenario may be extended harvesting; that is,
with other crops also due at the same time, all the beans not having to be
picked at once may be a major feature. Especially is this likely in the month
of August when coffee beans have to be picked daily when each is just right.
Varieties with "keepability," ease of harvesting and/or fast cooking are
all features which tend to be more important in certain points in the annual
cycle than others. Perhaps this is the real reason for sorting even when the
official prices are uniform. In fact, this issue may contribute to the lack of
uniformity in the local markets, the people knowing very well what they need in
food features at various points in time. The labor patterns suggest, for
example, the existence of a "fast food" time, the climate suggests the existence
of a "low input" period (e.g., low water availability) and the cropping seasons
suggest a period when there is the need for varieties with good root systems
that can grow under residual moisture to take the family through the lean, dry
months. Attempts will be made to tease information from the data that may shed
further light on this topic.
Issues such as taste, color, smell, etc. are clearly important in prefer-
ence. However, it is likely that the real issues are much more complicated and
people will adjust to whatever they think will improve their lives. That is to
say, while preference is important in the development of new bean varieties,
other features of the bio/social system, such as work cycles, may be just as
important. For example, while women undoubtedly are concerned about what they
serve their husbands (in relation to his tastes), especially if she is one among
several wives, the data reported here suggests there is another side. As a
major partner in the family work distribution pattern, it is likely she is
concerned that a crop is available to her for her domestic responsibilities
mutually supportive of her ability to hold up her end of the agricultural and
economic load, however unbalanced that load may be.
The data from this region of Malawi will be further analyzed to shed addi-
tional light on these and other issues emerging to explain the role and inter-
relationship of plant genetic diversity to the farm social and biological system.
II. ECONOMIC REPORT
The second agricultural survey called the National Sample Survey of
Agriculture (NSSA) was carried out on a national scale in the traditional areas
of Malawi from October 1980 to November 1981. The first NSSA was carried out in
the agricultural season of 1968/69.
In addition to updating the results of the first NSSA, the second NSSA
results were required for other specific purposes. Some of them are:
1. Monitoring and evaluation of agricultural programs: since 1978, the
Ministry of Agriculture has established eight Agricultural Development
Divisions (ADDs) throughout the country. The survey collected data
which facilitated planning and also comparison between ADD project
2. Assessment of land resource utilization.
3. The second NSSA collected information including income and expenditure
data which can be used in the compilation of the national accounts.
Results Related to Land Utilization and Employment
The average estimated area per household dropped by 24 percent from 1.54
hectares in 1968/69 to 1.17 hectares in 1980/81 during a period that the rural
farming population increased by 25.6 percent in absolute terms.
Malawi has approximately 6.58 million inhabitants (FAO, 1982) growing on
the average at 2.52 percent per annum (UN, 1978), but at 3.2 percent in 1984
(ERS, USDA)in Land area of 36,325 square miles, making Malawi one of Africa's
most densely populated countries, with much of the population concentrated in
the more fertile Southern and Central regions rather than the mountainous
In analyzing Table 1, it should be borne in mind that the rising
concentration in the South reflects not only a high immigration across the
frontier, but also a movement from North to South in search of employment.
In terms of percent of total paid employment, the Agriculture, Forestry
and Fishing sector maintains the largest at about 51 percent in 1983. Table 2
shows a decline in the absolute figure of total paid employment for 1981. The
drop in the percent for 1980 and 1981 period may have been due to factors like
unfavorable weather conditions, adjustment of quota systems for some crops and
a general rise in production costs, which resulted in a number of people being
laid off. The agricultural employment growth of only 2.2 percent in 1980,
compared to 5.8 percent in 1979 can partly be explained by the well publicize
African drought which affected many parts of the southern region.
Employment in the agricultural sector was decreasing over the three year
period from 1979-81. It fell from about 49 percent of total paid employment
across all nine sectors of the economy in 1980 to about 45 percent in 1981.
This was due to the closing down of a number of estates and a reduction in
There are population pressures on cropland in Malawi as can be seen in
Table 3. In some areas of the country, newly formed households can only find
gardens by splitting up the area orginially cultivated by one household (NSSA
Data indicate an increasing disparity between Malawi population growth
and cropland expansion (table 4).
Malawi's population is increasing at a much faster rate than is the
increase in usable agricultural land. Technological change will be essential
in increasing crop production to meet the future food need.
Some portion of what is grown by small farmers may be marketed, but
marketing is not the sole or even primary reason for producing. The reason
for growing export or cash crops is to sell or barter them, while the primary
reason for growing food crops is to eat them.
Having a large share of food produced in the subsistence sector creates
some special.marketing and supply strengths as well as problems. In Malawi
smallholder farmers produce about 85 percent of the total agricultural output
(Malawi Economic Planning Division, 1978) a practice which assures that
generally food will be available to the majority of the rural poor without
having to rely on transport from central distribution areas. In a bad year,
the quantity of food marketed is likely to drop by much more than the
shortfall in production because producers likely will meet their own food
needs first, leaving little or nothing to send to market. This problem may
especially affect the urban areas but in fact may be a strength in rural
areas. A good year may increase marketing, since farmers need to provide only
a reasonable measure of food security for themselves. In general, however,
there will be greater fluctuations in marketed food than in the actual
production itself (Food Problems in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Decade of the
1980's. ERS, USDA. Report No. 166).
As a consequence of the above, uncertainty about the reliability of the
supply of marketing by producers in the subsistence sector may be as serious
a problem for governments as the more frequently discussed cost of reaching
many small producers or the logistics of serving them. In recent years,
Malawi has invested heavily in costly marketing infrastructure and services.
It is costly in the sense of the subsidy involved in offering the same minimum
price countrywide. In doing so there maybe a direct financial aid to the
farmers in storage, transport and marketing if the price is not set at an
adequate level. The state marketing board (ADMARC) has set up some 900 buying
locations (Frequently tents on the roadsides) offering minimum prices. This
has brought many smallholders into the official market system, selling to
ADMARC their traditional labor-intensive production surplus. Malawi has
completed a complex of concrete silos, with a capacity of 180,000 tons (ERS,
USDA) in which the country's official produce is stored. The unofficial
markets, as in local purchases or purchases by private agents, provide another
very active outlet for farm family surplus.
Generally, farmers may be expected to respond to conditions in the
marketplace, but they will not permit those conditions to color the whole food
production process. Whether farmers in the subsistence sector make an effort
to market depends on the price they receive for their produce, their need for
money and the reliability of the marketing system itself. Prices, combined
with an adequate marketing system can create an incentive for regular
In trying to determine price responses of Malawi smallholder farmers,
J.C. Mills (1974) concluded that the smallholder does respond quickly to a
price change, but that the category of farmers is important. Smallholders,
grouped into three kinds of farmers (average, above average and below average
in agricultural practices), verified there were a series of factors
determining their production or acreage decisions.
In general, it can be said that production decisions regarding basic
foodstuffs depends on the size of the population, level and distribution of
income, tastes and the retail price of the commodities considered.
In Malawi most food production takes place within the subsistence
sector. The primary purpose for growing food is to feed the cultivators
themselves. However, the subsistence sector is large in Malawi, that is in
terms of population (table 5), but also in terms of contribution to the
National Income. In 1973, agriculture contributed 40 percent of gross
domestic product in a ratio of 2:1 in favor of the non-monetary sector and in
1977 that contribution was 45 percent (table 6).
Nature of Demand and Consumption
Although seriously effected by the drought in 1979-80, Malawi was one of
the few Southern African countries not seriously affected by the droughts of
1983 and 1984 and it is the only one not in need of major food imports in
1984-85. It is also the only sub-Saharan African country with 1983 per capital
food production above the 1969-71 period (table 7).
In Malawi, diets are heavily cereal based (table 8). Growth in income,
and particularly the way in which this growth is distributed, are determining
factors in the structure of demand. People in lower income groups spend a
larger percentage of their income on food and buy less costly food. There is
very little information on consumption patterns by income groups, but in table
9 it is possible to develop an idea of the income distribution in Malawi.
Income elasticities (percentage change in quantity demanded induced by a 1
percent change in income) by income groups would give better predictive
capacity than the aggregate figures which are generally used, but are
difficult to find. The ERS, USDA develops a model from which income
elasticities have been estimated using regional data on aggregate income and
food consumption. These figures can be used for developing a broad idea of
what is going on in the whole region, but are less useful for analyzing
specific cases. (table 10).
Agricultural Sector Performance and Prices
Malawi is a landlocked country endowed with virtually no natural
resources apart from generally fertile soil and adequate rainfall. As Malawi
has almost no exploitable mineral resources and a limited manufacturing base,
the performance of the agricultural sector is the key to continued development
(table 11). Malawi's development efforts have focused on creating for the
agricultural sector a transportation, communication and electrification
infrastructure sufficient to make it more viable (table 12).
Following the drought-reduced corn harvest of 1980, serious food
shortages developed and unusual corn imports were required, with an average
annual cereals import of 40,200 metric tons during the period 1976-78 (FAO).
Importing by Malawi involves considerable risk because of an insecure external
transport system, making corn self-sufficiency a major goal. Trade became
very difficult for this land-locked country in 1984. Mozambique, Malawi's
natural route to the sea, could not maintain security and its transport lines
continued to be undependable and dangerous. Warfare has continued to disrupt
the economy of Mozambique and also affects Malawi because of sabotage and
closure of key transportation routes. As a result, Malawi has had to turn to
a higher cost combination of truck and rail to ports in South Africa (ERS,
USDA). It is also beginning to use the port of Dar es Salaam, as a new
graveled road connecting Ibanbanda (Tanzania) with Karonga (Malawi) improves
this northern mountainous route (ERS, USDA).
Calorie levels in Malawi are relatively high, but the diet is heavily
dominated by maize. The average daily per capital calorie intake as a
percentage of daily requirement was 93 in the period 1976-78 (USDA, ESCS,
Global Food Assessment, 1979).
Accordingly, the Government raised the producer corn price by 30 percent
in 1981 and another 67 percent for the 1982 harvest. Prices of other crops
were not raised as much, however, and became less attractive than corn,
apparently explaining decreased smallholder deliveries of peanuts, rice,
tobacco, cotton and pulses.
The 1982 corn harvest reached 1.4 million tons as smallholders responded
to the 67 percent increase in the producer corn price. For 1984, the corn
producer price was increased by only 10 percent, while prices of other crops
were increased more. Peanuts, for example were boosted 70 percent (ERS,
Despite the recent increases, Malawi's 1984 corn price, equivalent to
$84.50 per ton, is still low when compared to its neighboring countries at
official exchange rates. Corn appears to be a promising crop for export given
the regional food situation and the likelihood of transport cooperation from
From its bumper 1983 corn crop, estimated at 1.5 million tons, Malawi
exported 160,000 to 180,000 tons while maintaining per capital corn consumption
at slightly under 200 kilograms. In 1984 it exported an estimated 100,000
tons of white corn to the Southern Africa region. Exports were aided by
severe corn shortages throughout the region, but financing difficulties arose
because neighboring importers suffer from lack of foreign exchange. As an
example, Zambia had to import over 50,000 tons of corn during 1984. Most of
this came from Zimbabwe and was bartered for electricity (ERS, USDA).
There are some difficulties confronting agriculture in Malawi, however.
Although the 1983 burley tobacco crop rose by 76 percent to a record 48,000
tons, prices have been depressed and a support program may be adopted. Malawi
has emerged as a major competitor to the United States in the world burley
Despite a good agricultural year, Malawi's export earnings dropped in
1982. Foreign debt had begun to grow rapidly in 1980, with debt-service costs
reaching 30 percent of exports in 1981.
Bouyed by record corn and tobacco crops, Malawi's real GDP in 1983
increased 4.5 percent, in contrast with only 2.9 percent in 1982. However,
the economic picture was marred by difficulties in external transactions.
While Malawi increased tea and corn export earnings, lower tobacco prices and
continued low sugar prices, combined with transportation blockages, kept
export earnings static. In addition, import costs increased, partly because
of high transport costs. Debt-service costs rose sharply, while international
reserves were reduced. The IMF's Extended Fund Facility and the World Bank's
structural adjustment loan are enabling Malawi to make its external payments.
Since 1973 the pressure on the balance of payments has been much
accentuated by a very sharp upward trend in import prices of capital goods and
oil, while prices of Malawian exports continue to fluctuate in response to
short-term market conditions. Petroleum prices rose on the average by 55
percent in 1979 (World Bank, August 1980), and the cost of importing oil
pre-empted 20 percent of total exports, compared to 10.6 percent in 1970 (see
table 13). The detoriation in the balance of payments compelled Malawi to
reduce very considerably the rate growth of imports (see table 14). There was
an absolute decline in the volume of imports. It seems that the curtailment
of intermediate goods import was particularly sharp. This led to a severe
reduction in the utilization of existing capacity not only in manufacturing
but also in transport, construction, agricultural extension services as well
as education and health.
The immediate reaction to the large deterioration in the external
position was to draw down reserves and borrow abroad. Net foreign assets fell
precipitously in 1975 and turned negative in some subsequent years (see table
By all accounts, the 1968 to 1978 period was characterized by
unprecedented instability in food prices. Partly as a result of a deliberate
policy in the United States to reduce the large grain stockpile accumulated
during earlier years, abundant global grain supplies were followed by years in
which poor harvest coincided with a sharply rising food demand related to
world wide economic expansion. In later years, demand was drastically reduced
as countries were restricted by the oil shock and the concurrent worldwide
contraction in growth.
A World Bank staff working paper (No. 728) by Kevin M. Cleaver catalogs
Malawi as a country with low or no farm price discrimination, and records that
its average growth rate of agricultural production (1970-81) was 4.1 percent.
The paper shows that there is a significant relationship between price
discrimination at farm producer level and the agricultural growth rate of 31
Despite high transport costs, Malawi increased its tobacco and tea export
earnings in 1984 and was able to regain a small balance-of-payments surplus.
The country achieved real economic growth of 6.8 percent. It also raised its
foreign exchange reserves, which had dropped very low in 1983 (ERS, USDA).
Duality in the Agricultural Sector
Since independence in 1964, the principal focus of the government's
development strategy has been on raising agricultural production. As Malawi
is now virtually self-sufficient in food production, greater emphasis is being
placed on increasing and diversifying agricultural exports. Malawi is one of
the few African countries whose agricultural production has continued to grow
faster than its population (table 7).
Estate production, principally tobacco, tea and sugar used to provide
over half of Malawi's total exports and have been the most dynamic element of
the economy in recent years. Export earnings from the smallholder farm may
have been less important in the past as foreign exchange generators, but hard
statistics are not available.
The total domestic agriculture sector averaged an annual growth rate of
6.3 percent in 1984 over 1983 with the average contribution of 80 percent from
small-scale farmers and 20 percent from large-scale farmers. Smallholder
agriculture during this period accounted for the entire increase in
agriculture value added, as large scale agriculture had reached a standstill
(see table 16).
In smallholder agriculture, where producer prices were first increased
substantially in 1982 (by 43.9 percent), there has already been a substantial
increase in the production of certain crops. In particular, the real value of
smallholder cotton, tobacco, rice and pulses. When tobacco prices are not
good, world tea prices continue down and sugar prices remain depressed,
additional instruction from agricultural extension workers should be made
available to smallholders. According to Shlomo Reutlinger, the rural poor who
produce all or most of the food they consume would, of course, not benefit
from some general economic policies (for example, reduced food prices). This
segment of the population can be helped only through targeted measures which
provide them with more income, for example public employment, or subsidized
production inputs (as fertilizer) which would provide them with an immediate
augmentation of their income and hopefully would also lead to growth in
production of food and non-food commodities. Increased food production
associated with unchanged or even higher food prices will improve food
security, only in countries in which most of the people with inadequate access
to food produce the food which they consume and frequently produce small
surplus for sale.
Malawi has embarked on strategies aimed at increasing domestic food
production. These strategies have involved a variety of measures such as
infrastructure development and price support. This has sometimes been a
costly process. It has led to the diversion of resources away from other
investments which may have higher rates of return. This may be the cost which
governments are prepared to pay for being self-sufficient, particularly if
they feel vulnerable to food supply problems.
Percentage of Population by Regions: 1911-1966
1911 1921 1931 1945 1966
Northern Region 19 18 14 14 12
Central Region 40 39 39 37 36
Southern Region 41 43 47 49 52
Source: 1966 Census
Breakdown of Household Cultivated Area
Average no. of gardens
per household 3.1 2.3
Average no. of plots
per household 3.9 3.4
Average area per garden
(hectares) 0.49 0.5
Source: NSSA 1980/81
Garden: This may be a small or large piece of land. It must be
continuous, e.g. if a path, road or river of more than three meters
wide passes through the piece of land, then this divides it into two
gardens. One garden may have several different crops growing in it.
Plot: This is a part of a garden which contains a different crop or
crop mixture or is kept by a different operator in the same household
or has a different method of cultivation. It must be a continuous
piece of land and should not be split by a path of more than one meter
STRUCTURE OF PAID EMPLOYMENT, MALAWI 1974-1983
1974 1975 1976 1977 1978
Grand Total of the
and Fishing Sector
No. 80,381 93,023 101,424 154,696 169,008 178,804 181,136 157,195 179,215 197,201
% Share 35.4 38.0 39.1 50.1 49.9 50.8 49.3 48.0 52.1 50.89
Note: Due to changes in the industrial allocation of some ec
comparable to that of the previous years.
Source: Economic report (various issues), Malawi Government.
onomic activities made in 1977, data for 1977 is not directly
Arable Land & Land Under Permanent Crops
Population x 10001
Area x 1000
Sources: -Patterns and Trends in World Agricultural Land Use. ERS,
USDA. Foreign Agricultural Economic Report, No. 198.
Sources: 21964 72, Mid-year Population, ERS. 1974-82, FAO.
Percentage of Labor Force Employed in Agriculture, Malawi.
Year 1960 1970 1978 1980 1982
Percentage 92 89 86 86 82
Source: FAO and The World Bank
Agriculture as Percentage of Gross Domestic Product GDP, Malawi
Year 1970 1973 1977 1980
of GDP 51 40 45 43
Source: The World Bank
Indices of Agricultural and Food Production in Malawi,
total and per capital, 1977-1983.
1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983
Total Agricultural Production 134 141 144 142 149 164 169
Per capital Agricultural Production 108 110 109 104 107 114 113
Total Food Production 120 129 126 129 137 149 154
Per capital Food Production 97 100 96 95 98 103 103
Source: ERS, USDA. Sub-Saharan Africa: Outlook and Situation Report. July, 1984
Calories from Cereals, Roots, Tubers and Plantains, Malawi
(daily average 1972-74)
Percentage of daily per capital Root, tubers
caloric intake from: Cereal and plantains Total
Percent 76.2 1.9 78.1
Source: FAO, Provisional Food Balance Sheets, 1972-74 Average.
Income Distribution in Malawi
National Coverage Survey of Households, 1969
Lowest Middle Top
Income share of 40 percent 40 percent 40 percent
Percent 15.0 32.1 62.9
Source: Shall Jain, Size Distribution of Income. World Bank, Washington, D.C.
Income Elasticities of Demand by Region,
Region Maize Pulses Rice
The Sahel 0.46 -0.14 0.93
West .15 .42 .65
Central .66 -.14 .93
East .28 -.02 .58
Southern .35 -.002 .56
Source: ERS, USDA. Food Problems and Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa: The
Decade of the 1980's, Foreign Agricultural Economic Report No. 166.
The Agriculture Sector as Origin of Gross Domestic Product
(at 1978 Constant Factor Cost 1980-85*)
GDP at Factor Cost
As a Percentage
N.S.D., Treasury and R.B.M
from the Economic Report, Malawi Government, 1985.
TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE, MALAWI:
1964 1977 1980 1984
Total Roads 10,128 10,772 11,541
Paved Roads 431 1,087 1,899 2,165
Sources: Ecomonic Report,
1 ERS, USDA
Malawi government (various issues)
Oil Imports in Relation
to Total Exports.
1970 1978 1979
Percent 10.6 16.0 20.0
Source: IMF, International Finance
Statistics. World Bank
Volume of Trade. Malawi
(Average annual percentage growth rate)
1968-73 1973-75 1968-73 1973-75
6 2 2 -3
Source: World Bank
Foreign Exchange Position of Malawi
(Million US$; end of December)
1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979
International Reserves (Gross) 66.6 81.8 61.5 26.2 87.8 75 69
(total reserves minus Gold)
Net Monetary Assets 61.3 76.0 24.0 -26..7 11.9 -14 -98
Source: IMF, International Finance Statistics
Contribution by Subsectors to the Malawi Agriculture Product
(At 1978 Constant Factor Cost 1980-85*)
1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985
Agriculture 284.1 260.7 278.7 290.6 308.0 313.9
Small-scale 231.2 210.7 216.9 224.7 243.3 247.2
Large-scale 81.4 80.8 77.8 77.3 78.8 78.8
52.9 50.0 61.8 65.9 65.5 66.7
18.6 19.2 22.2 22.7 21.2 21.2
from the Economic Report, Malawi Government, 1985.
Urban, Francis and Vollrath, Thomas 1984. Patterns and Trends in World
Agriculture Land Use. ERS/USDA: Foreign Agricultural Economic Report No.
World Bank. 1984. Policy Options for Food Security. Agricultural and Rural
Economic Research Service USDA. 1984. Sub-Saharan Africa: Outlook and
Situation Report. RS-84-10.
Malawi Government. National Statistical Office. 1984. National Sample
Survey of Agriculture 1980/81. Vol. I.
Mills, J.D. 1974. Price Responses of Malawi Smallholder Farmers Fast,
Slow or None: Occasional Paper No. 2. Department of Economics,
University of Malawi.
Malawi. Office of the President and Cabinet Economic Planning Division.
1985. Economic Report 1985. Budget Document No. 4.