Malawi is a landlocked country located in southern central Africa along the western part of the Great Rift Valley of Africa. Covering a total area of 118,484 km², it stretches some 900 km north to south, and between 90 and 161 km east to west. Malawi is bordered by the United Republic of Tanzania to the north and north east, Mozambique to the east, south and south west, and Zambia to the west. The country is divided into three regions: the Southern Region, which is undulating and densely populated; the Central Region, which consists of fertile plains and is well-populated; and the mountainous and sparsely populated Northern Region. Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in Africa, spanning a length of 568 km and a width of between 16 and 80 km. In the north, the Rift Valley Escarpment rises steeply from the Lake, reaching altitudes of 2,500m above sea-level. This area includes the Nyika Plateau and the forested Viphya Plateau.
Agriculture is the mainstay of Malawi’s economy, contributing about 31% of the GDP, accounting for more than 90% of export earnings and supports 85% of the total population living in rural areas.
The agricultural sector in Malawi is dualistic, comprising smallholder farms and large estates. Of the 9.4 million hectares of land available for agriculture, about 32% are suitable for rainfed agriculture. On the large farming estates the main crops are tobacco (60%) tea (20%), and sugar (18%) and the balance (2%) is used for growing other cash and food crops. Estate agriculture accounts for more than 25% of agricultural GDP, 10% agricultural employment, 9% of total GDP and 90% of export earnings. The estates access improved technologies and have better access to inputs, credit, supporting agricultural services and markets, hence have higher productivity levels than smallholders.
The smallholder farmers group in Malawi are comprised of approximately 3.1 million farm families sharing 6.5 million hectares of land - 69% of Malawi’s total land area of 9.4 million ha available for agriculture under customary tenure system. The average farm size is 0.7 hectares and about 60% of smallholder farmers cultivate less than 1.0 ha of land.
Malawi has abundant surface water resources and potential irrigable land is under-utilized with only 78,000 ha of the 400,000 ha of potentially irrigable areas currently being irrigated with smallholders irrigating only 30,000 ha - about 8% of total irrigable area.