AIMS Program: Developing the Horticulture Sector in Malawi

By Deborah Kafanikhale

The USDA-funded Agribusiness Investment for Market Stimulation (AIMS) program, implemented by Global Communities (GC) since September 2014 in Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi, facilitates agribusinesses to access markets and finance as a way of bolstering domestic, regional and international trade of agricultural products. In Malawi, the program targets grains, livestock and horticulture value chains.  

The agriculture sector plays a significant role in the economy of Malawi. It employs about 80 percent of the workforce and accounts for almost 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. For many years agriculture has revolved mainly around two crops, maize and tobacco. Maize is the focus of food security policy in Malawi and it accounts for over half of the caloric intake of households in the country (Minot, 2010). However, its production and availability is threatened by prolonged drought and erratic rains linked to El Niño. On the other hand, tobacco has been a main cash crop for many farmers; however, Malawi’s tobacco industry is facing challenges of a recession, oversaturated markets, and ever-growing antismoking campaigns.

In order to improve food security and minimize risks associated with heavy dependence on maize as a staple food and tobacco as the main cash crop, the government of Malawi has been promoting crop diversification. The horticulture industry is among the sectors that has the potential to improve food security, income, foreign exchange earnings, and generate employment (Khonje, 2013). However, a desk study by the AIMS program found that there exists gaps in the horticulture sector including:

  • Lack of a clear policy and strategy on horticulture - the horticulture section falls under the crops department in the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation. The section is regarded as an "appendage" of the crops department, as a result, less attention is given to the section as compared to others, such that, Malawi does not have a coherent and focused horticulture policy and strategy. Various horticulture crops are grown in almost every part of the country despite the varied[1] climatic conditions because of lack of a clear policy and strategy on horticulture. It is clear therefore that Malawi is missing an opportunity to optimise horticulture development.
  • Low production levels - horticulture production is done by smallholders, mostly under subsistence conditions;
  • Lack of specialised personnel and private sector support - the study further found that limited specialist personnel in the horticultural sector and limited government and private sector support on production, marketing, and processing have contributed to the poor performance of the horticulture sector in Malawi.

In order to revamp the horticulture industry, AIMS mobilized key private horticulture players to instruct them on the need for them to champion horticulture development in Malawi. Through this facilitation, the private (commercial) horticulture farmers organized themselves into a Horticulture Farmers’ Cooperative of Lilongwe (HOFACOL), a cooperative of horticulture SMEs. The AIMS Malawi program has been providing technical assistance to HOFACOL to develop a business model and putting together a proposal to manage a horticulture market facility built by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development with funding from African Development Bank. This facility will help horticulture sector players access both local and export markets. The ministry issued a request for proposals as it does not intend to manage the facility. HOFACOL will use capital on the market facility to grow linkages with smaller horticulture cooperatives while at the same time link off-takers locally and internationally. In addition, AIMS collaborates with the department of Horticulture in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation & Water Development to revive the process of reviewing the agriculture policy and strategy through involvement of other stakeholders like private sector, academia (Lilongwe of Agriculture & Natural Resources – LUANAR), NGO (Civil Society Agriculture Network – CISANET).

The AIMS program has also facilitated horticulture market linkages through organizing a horticulture business to business event for SMEs and buyers. The event resulted in deals involving 15 metric tons of tomatoes, onions, green beans, green peppers, cabbages, pawpaw’s, mushrooms, and bananas worth USD7,480 being actualized. In addition, the program has linked horticulture SMEs to supermarkets, hotels, and catering service providers. The program is also building the capacity of SMEs in the chillies and tubers horticulture sub-sectors and linking them to processors and larger aggregators/exporters.

The AIMS Malawi’s contribution to facilitating a process of an enabling policy environment coupled with markets and capacity building for horticulture SMEs will go a long way in increasing volumes and values of domestic, regional, and international trade of horticulture products.


[1] Malawi has varied climatic conditions from tropical to semi-temperate