Malawi’s First National Agriculture Policy Picks up Momentum

A few months back, in November 2016, the government of Malawi had a good reason to celebrate. Following an intensive collaborative process, a group of stakeholders—led by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development (MoAIWD)—developed and launched the country’s first ever Malawi-born National Agriculture Policy (NAP), and it was impressive.

With a long list of priorities, ranging from sustainable agricultural production and productivity to food and nutrition security and risk management, as well as a diverse group of proposed implementers spanning many sectors, the complex policy is certainly a tall order for its short five-year time period. Implementation won’t be easy, but many of the NAP’s contributors have reason to be optimistic.

Late last month, I met with two of the lead architects of the NAP to learn more about why this policy is unlike any other before it, and what it will take to operationalize it. Dr. Flora Nankhuni is Chief of Party for the New Alliance Policy Acceleration Support Project* (NAPAS: Malawi), and is affiliated with Michigan State University. Dr. Athur Mabiso is a Senior Program Manager with IFPRI. Both are based at MoAIWD and contributed policy design expertise to the NAP through NAPAS: Malawi, a Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy project.

What makes NAP so celebration-worthy?

Flora Nankhuni (FN): This is Malawi’s first National Agriculture Policy. Previous agriculture sector work was guided by ASWAp (the first National Agriculture Investment Plan), drawn from broad CAADP-guidance. Though adapted to the Malawi context, it did not originate here. With NAP being Malawi-born, it truly reflects the thinking of what stakeholders in Malawi want to see here.

Additionally, the process was very inclusive. On behalf of MoAIWD, we received input and validation from the private sector, development partners, and civil society. We were able to show partners exactly how their input was or was not included. As a result, there is wide ownership of the NAP—even beyond MoAIWD, who led the process. We were very proud to see that the President himself signed the policy and was referencing it at various meetings even before the launch date.

Athur Mabiso (AM): Yes, a lot of stakeholders have bought into this policy, so there is already a lot of excitement, political will, and motivation surrounding it—not just within the government, but also among the private sector and the donor community. What needs to happen next is to mobilize all those people to buy into the same vision and to implement it.

The good news is, we have already started to see the NAP in use. MoAIWD Departments are pulling specific annexes from the policy directly into their work plans during budgeting exercises, some donors have referenced it to design new phases of their funding and to develop new programs, and some specific components of the policy have already started receiving funding. In addition, the next phase of the National Agriculture Investment Plan (ASWAp2) is currently being designed, guided by the NAP and also serving as a key vehicle for AP policy implementation.

Is there any low hanging fruit in this ambitious plan?

FN: The first outcome on increasing agricultural productivity is definitely achievable. There is so much potential to increase agricultural productivity here because we already know how crops are grown and we have an extension system that should work well if adequately funded. It’s a matter of enabling farmers to organize into groups, have better access to markets, and think like entrepreneurs, rather than just producing for subsistence-only.

AM: If you look at what is actually achievable, these targets are not too ambitious. In terms of agricultural production, the NAP targets 4 metric tons of maize per hectare, whereas the highest maize yields have actually reached 12 metric tons per hectare for some farmers here. So we can absolutely do this, but the challenge is figuring out how to get the majority of farmers to achieve that level of productivity. For that, we will need extension services and the provision of inputs.

Beyond production, our food and nutrition security targets are also totally achievable. Starting from 2006, Malawi has done a good job improving this. The farming subsidy program, FISP, made a big difference. People are no longer dying of hunger, but we still have to balance FISP investments, to build our resilience to deal with floods and drought, to limit their effects on levels of production and availability of food.

When thinking about whether the NAP is truly actionable, what keeps you up at night?   

AM: The biggest challenge is getting people to actually work on it in a coordinated way and to invest in it. There has been a big focus here on investing in FISP, which has made contributions (for example, providing farmers with fertilizer access), but there are so many other areas to invest in to balance FISP. The onus is on us, at MoAIWD, but the coordination will be tough.

So what needs to happen now?

AM: Chapter 4 of the policy offers implementation plans that call out specific parties who can take ownership of various components. That’s a good starting place, but a lot more work needs to be done to guide this process, to encourage other sectors to engage with agriculture and to think of us as more than just production, and even consumption, but also in terms of big-picture investments.

It won’t be easy to make huge transformational changes in investments, but we want to support budget restructuring, to help send a signal to stakeholders that we are moving in the right direction. For example, if we shift to funding some ‘hardware’ investments in infrastructure (such as irrigation), then a large up-front investment has a better chance of contributing to a more resilient food prod system in the country.

We can also put our money where our mouth is. For example, in NAP we propose creating programs specifically for women and youth. There is enough evidence to tell us that when you enable women to own and control agricultural assets, the whole family benefits, and that drives food security. So government programs can proactively invest in women and youth initiatives. Then we are sending a signal that we are really serious about this policy by investing in what we say we will. After that, the rest will happen: donors will follow suit, private sector will get on board, and together we will see impact.

FN: Great ideas need to be implemented. We have the political will, and if we also have what it takes in our government institutions to do it, then we can make progress in next five years. The government needs to know what it wants and direct the sector (including the donors) on what to invest in. It boils down to us [at the MoAIWD], and how we drive the train and get people on board, and to say, ‘this is where we’re going.’

AM: I am confident that we will succeed. We need serious leadership and institutional reforms to take place. Enough stakeholders are already rallying behind the NAP for it to have an impact.


* NAPAS: Malawi is supported by USAID-Malawi, and is a Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy project based at Michigan State University, implemented in collaboration with IFPRI, University of Pretoria, and AMG global. The project provides policy advisory support to MoAIWD to better enable the government of Malawi to achieve policy reforms it committed to in 2013 under the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Malawi. For more information on NAPAS: Malawi, please contact Dr. Flora Nankhuni ( or Dr. Athur Mabiso ( or visit:  


 **Download the National Agriculture Policy (PDF 2.65 MB).  

**Read another blog on Malawi’s National Agriculture Policy, published by MSU.