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In order to attain the level of agricultural growth that can transform the country’s economy, the country will need to:

  • First, reduce its overreliance on tobacco, a crop facing declining international demand, and transition its farming and economy toward more profitable commodity value chains and livelihoods alternatives. Many agricultural value chains have great unmet potential.

  • Second, eliminate the subsisting unpredictable policy environment, featuring adhoc and frequently changing marketing and trade policies that:

    • Create a high-risk environment for farmers and all private firms, large and small.

    • lead to failure to implement policy reforms that would promote private investments and smallholder farmers access to markets, services and technologies; and

    • lead to lack of coordination between the government and the private sector in their investments.

Redressing these challenges are necessary conditions to create a hospitable enabling environment for inclusive, broad-based, and sustained agricultural sector growth. Achieving good results will require major commitment and dedication from the Malawian government to implement supportive policies and make well-targeted public investments toward alternative agri-food systems.

While many of the constituent parts of an effective and comprehensive strategy for Malawi’s agricultural sector are known, others remain unknown. For example, there is broad agreement that alternative agricultural value chains will need to be supported and developed to reduce Malawian smallholders’ reliance on tobacco as a cash crop. The over reliance on tobacco for export revenue has persisted despite shrinking global demand in response to the declining smoking, indicating that Malawi’s economy is vulnerable. However, there remains a dearth of evidence to guide governments and the private sector to determine:

  • Which value chains provide the greatest potential in which areas of the country.

  • Which types of investment in physical infrastructure would provide the greatest benefits per dollar spent depending on which commodity value chains are prioritized; and

  • Which specific policies could be implemented to accelerate private investment in these value chains.

The Malawian government and agribusiness companies are seeking concrete information to guide their investments – which value chains, where, and how. These twin challenges – those that are widely agreed, and those for which little evidence or consensus exists – are most effectively addressed through coalition building led by respected national (in this case Malawian-led) policy processes. While many countries in the region have built highly active, credible, and respected local agricultural policy think tanks that play an organizing and consensus-building role in their countries (e.g., the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI) for Zambia), Malawi has no such institution. Therefore, a third and overarching challenge facing the country is to build a home-grown Malawian institution capable of generating new knowledge as the basis for evidence-based policies in the country, to support public debate and build consensus on the way forward, and to build a coalition capable of driving the process forward.
It is against this backdrop that Michigan State University (MSU) entered into partnership with the National Planning Commission (NPC) and Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) with funding from the Agricultural Transformation Initiative (ATI) to build a self-sustaining Malawian agricultural policy think tank, MwAPATA Institute. The Institute is engaging the Government of Malawi, private sector, and civil society stakeholders in a program of applied policy analysis, policy outreach, capacity building, and policy coordination. The ultimate goal of MwAPATA Institute is to accelerate the adoption of more effective Malawian-led policies and programs to drive broad-based agricultural sector growth, diversification and improvement of smallholder incomes from the development of alternative commodity value chains, and improved household food security and nutrition in Malawi.

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