Food Imports in Malawi: Trends, Drivers, and Policy Implications

First release: January 5, 2021

Malawi has huge agricultural potential, but Malawi's food demand outpaces domestic production, making the nation a heavy net food importer. Drawing on several data sources, this paper provides an in-depth analysis of food import trends and their drivers. The results show that total value of food imports in the country more than doubled between 1998 and 2018. Cereals, animal and vegetable fats, and oils dominate, accounting for almost 50 percent of Malawi’s total food imports. Much of the food import portfolio is for direct consumption as opposed to imports of intermediary commodities used to produce value-added food products. The increase in the importation of food products is driven by several factors including low agricultural productivity; changing diets and rising demand for processed foods; and low domestic manufacturing value addition and industrial sector competitiveness. The paper concludes with policy suggestions for shifting the trade balance.

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Cereals, oils, and prepared foods dominate Malawi's food imports portfolio.

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