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Malawi is a small, landlocked country in southeast Africa, about one and a half times the size of Ireland. Over 80% of the population depend on farming to survive. The effects of climate change such as drought and flooding have contributed to chronic food shortages. We work with the Malawian government and with a range of non-governmental organisations to ensure farmers have better crop yields, children are better nourished and that Malawians have a say in how their country is governed. 

  • Overview
  • Background
  • Our Work
  • Results



Malawi at a glance


17.2 million

Proportion of population living on less than $1.25 a day:


Ranking on UN Human Development Index 2011:

170 out of 188

Key Partner Country since:



A large map of Malawi

Ireland and Malawi

Since the opening of the Irish embassy in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi in 2007 and the setting up of the official aid programme, Irish Aid has worked with a variety of partner organisations, including government institutions, UN agencies, international research institutions and aid agencies to deliver on our development objectives, as set out in our Malawi Country Strategy Plan (CSP) (PDF, 1.31MB).

In addition to support provided through the bilateral aid programme, we support the work of local and international aid agencies and missionary organisations in Malawi through our civil society funding schemes.

This has built on the already strong historic links between Ireland and Malawi. And in March 2010, the Irish and US ambassadors in Malawi signed a three-year co-operation framework agreement to help Malawi in its fight against hunger and food insecurity.

We are also working to improve trade relations between Ireland and Malawi and we support a number of research and learning partnerships between higher education institutions in Ireland and Malawi through the Programme for Strategic Co-operation.



Malawi is a young democracy. Following independence from Britain in 1964, Kamuzu Banda ruled for 30 years under a one-party system of government. The country held its first multi-party elections in 1994. President Bingu was Mutharika was elected in 2004 and held the office of President until his unexpected death in April 2012, when former Vice President, Joyce Banda was sworn in. Tripartite elections (Presidential, parliamentary and local government) will be held in Malawi in May 2014.

Malawi is making significant progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, which are aligned with its own national Growth and Development Strategy. This strategy focuses on reducing poverty and growing the economy, as well as protecting human rights. A stable political environment with strong national policies and government institutions that can improve the delivery of essential services to Malawians is essential to protect those most vulnerable to food shortages and natural disasters.

A Masai village in Malawi. Photo by Concern.


Malawi has experienced some economic growth in recent years through government support for education, healthcare and environmental protection programmes. But the country’s economy is overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture, with goods such as tobacco, sugar and coffee accounting for 90% of its exports.

Around 85% of Malawians live off the land with most people relying on a single annual crop of maize grown during a short rainy season. Only one in five farmers produces enough food to sell at the market. Drought and erratic rains, as well as the rapid increase in food prices and severe shortages of fuel and fertiliser have resulted in increased hardship for Malawian citizens.

At present, Malawi remains dependent on aid, which makes up more than 30% of the national budget. As well as Ireland, the UK, Germany, Canada, the People’s Republic of China, Japan and the United States contribute aid to Malawi.

Potato farmers in Malawi gather in Bembeke Village


Malawi is ranked 170 out of 187 countries on the United Nation’s Human Development Index (Ireland is currently ranked 7). The country has experienced severe food shortages and famine on a number of occasions when drought caused harvests to fail and it continues to struggle to ensure that people have enough to eat.

Many households run out of food between November and March, which is called the ‘hungry season’. One third of Malawi’s people are undernourished. More than one in five children under the age of five is under-weight, one child in 20 suffers from acute severe malnutrition and stunted growth is widespread.

Poor farming practices have caused serious land degradation but now, new farming methods are starting to improve soil fertility and increase food crop yields, while protecting against the impact of drought and floods.

In an effort to improve food security, the Malawian Government has introduced a programme subsidising the cost of seeds and fertiliser for the poorest farmers, which has resulted in a dramatic improvement in maize yields in recent years.

The HIV and AIDS pandemic has been severe in Malawi, decimating a generation and leaving thousands of orphaned children in its wake. In more recent times however, the prevalence rate has come down to under 12%. 


Our Work

In Malawi, Irish Aid works with a variety of partner organisations at national and local levels including government institutions, UN agencies, international research institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to deliver results in three main areas:

A group Singing. Photo by Jeffery Barbee

Developing agriculture

If Malawi is to meet the food needs of poor people and poor communities, it must develop its agricultural sector. Irish Aid works alongside our partners to increase Malawi’s food productivity in a sustainable way by adapting to the impacts of climate change. This includes:

  • Increasing yields of food staples such as maize
  • Improving soil fertility and land management practices
  • Growing more nutritious and new crop varieties
  • Carrying out research with farmers
  • Making seeds and fertiliser available at affordable costs

Irish Aid supports the Malawian Government’s Farm Inputs Subsidy Programme, which provides 1.4 million poor smallholder farmers with subsidised fertiliser and good-quality seeds for a variety of crops.

The Local Development Support Programme is a sustainable livelihoods programme that targets 135,000 people living in three districts in rural Malawi that are prone to drought and flooding. This is implemented by Concern Universal with Irish Aid support. It focuses on improved farming practices including small-scale irrigation, crop diversification and winter cropping.

Research on high-quality potato seeds and orange-fleshed sweet potatoes is carried out by the International Potato Centre (CIP) and is funded by Irish Aid to produce better yields. The orange-fleshed sweet potato is rich in vitamin A and produces an early yield that offsets the impact of the ‘hungry season’.

Our partnership with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) focuses on building relationships between farmers, seed traders and the Government to improve the availability of, and access to, improved varieties of seed.

Maize Farmer Rosemary Kadzitche with her crop

Improving nutrition and providing social supports

Our work aims to reduce household vulnerability, which can include poor nutrition, lack of social supports and impacts of natural disasters in districts that are prone to drought or floods.

With more than one in five children under five under-weight in Malawi, combating malnutrition is a key priority. We are supporting a national vitamin A sugar fortification programme that aims to increase the daily vitamin A intake of 50% of the population of Malawi.

We also support national programmes that provide therapeutic care delivered at community level for children who are suffering from malnutrition.

Providing social cash transfers for poor households in times of crisis such as crop failure, is an effective way of ensuring people do not fall even further into poverty. We are working hard to strengthen co-operation between the Malawian Government and development partners in the area of social protection and we provide financial assistance for a Social Support Cash Transfer programme in several districts through UNICEF.

Supporting democratic governance and service delivery

As a young democracy, it is important that Malawi engages its citizens and deepens their understanding of electoral and decision-making processes that affect their lives.

We support national and district structures and aim to strengthen systems for improved service delivery with a particular focus on food security and household resilience.

We also provide assistance to networks of grassroots organisations representing small farmers that advocate for more effective government expenditure on agriculture, health and education.

And we strongly endorse Malawi’s fight against corruption by supporting the Anti-Corruption Bureau to advance the Government’s Anti-Corruption Strategy

We are also providing support to the UNDP multi- donor election fund in preparation for the 2014 elections.

How we spend our budget                  

Over the five year period of the Malawi Country Strategy (from 2010 to 2014) we plan to provide in the region €65 million, subject to availability of budget. We spent €13.551 million in support of our development programmes in 2015, (see Summary of Partner Country by Sector - Annex 9- Annual Report 2014

Expenditure by sector Malawi 2015


Malawi’s progress

At a national level, Malawi has made significant progress in these areas:

  • Through Conservation Agriculture pilot projects 10,000 farmers planted 8 metric tonnes of fertilizer trees.
  • Since 2010, farmer’s adoption of certified improved seeds has increased from 22% to 48% nationally which has contributed to increased production and improved food security.
  • The proportion of farm families consuming diversified diets increased from 15% in 2010 to 25% in 2011.
  • In the Ntcheu District, and following the distribution of 263,000 bednets, suspected deaths from malaria among the under 5s have reduced by 95% since 2010.

How we have helped

Irish Aid has played its part in the progress made by Malawi.

  • in 2014 through support from Irish Aid a total of 339,000 kgs and 33,200 kgs of groundnut ans pigeon pea foundation seeds were produced
  • 2.2 Million househoulds received support from Irish Aid following climate shocks.
  • The Malawi National Social Cash Transfer programme was significantly ramped up in 2015, reaching 711,413 of Malawi's poorest prople a threefold increase in the national programme form the previous year
  • By the end of 2015 an estimated 382,000 households were using improved fule-efficient stoves in Malawi as part of Irish Aid's work in adapting to climate change
  • 95,000 vunerable people, 63% of whom are children, are benefiting from cash transfer payments in seven districts across Malawi.
  • There was a 58% reduction in maleria cases within the target areas of the Irish Aid supported Local Development Support programme.

Read more

Irish Aid’s ‌Malawi Country Stategy Paper 2016-2020 sets out how we respond to the changing development environment in Malawi.