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Horticulture industry in Malawi

Women make up 51% of Malawi’s population of 17 million (NSO [1] of which 85% depend on agriculture for their livelihoods). Agriculture generates over 90% of export earnings and 45% of GDP. The horticulture industry is among the sectors with potential to improve food security, income, foreign exchange earnings, and generate employment (Khonje, 2013). However, a  USDA-funded Agribusiness Investment for Market Stimulation (AIMS[2]) program- led desk study unearthed gaps in the horticulture sector including:

  • Lack of a clear policy and strategy on horticulture - Malawi does not have a coherent and focused horticulture policy and strategy.
  • Low production levels - horticulture production is done by smallholders, mostly under subsistence conditions;
  • Lack of specialized personnel and private sector support on production, marketing, and processing have contributed to the poor performance of the horticulture sector in Malawi.

Statistics on exports shows that between 2010 and 2015 Malawi earned US$ 3.5 million from the export of 26 and 172 tonnes of legumes and flowers respectively (nearly 60% of flowers are exported to the Netherlands) although quantities have declined significantly due to the broad macro socio-economic issues affecting the export sector. There are currently no exports of flowers to the Netherlands due to high freight costs (US$ 2.30/kg compared to Kenya’s US$ 0.60/kg). Lingadzi, one of the farms which stopped its operations in 2000 once exported an average of 20 million stems a year, hired 700 workers and raised US$ 28 million in revenues. The Women@Work Campaign in Malawi has identified chillies[3] and possibly citrus fruits and paprika to focus its efforts on.

Laws, policies and government

Despite having a conducive legal framework[5] for promoting productive and decent employment women’s working conditions in the chilli sector are unfavorable. Women are actively involved in all production activities along the chilli value chain. A Hivos 2018 baseline study on working conditions in the chilli sector, asserts that women face challenges such as lack of occupational health and safety, heavy work-loads, lack or limited participation in trade union activities, low wages.  Due to high illiteracy levels among women[6] , many women work as casual and seasonal workers with no formal contracts, contravening the Malawi Employment Act which requires employers to give employees written contracts.

While employers indicate they promote women’s participation in decision-making positions, there are still very few women in leadership positions revealing a big disconnect between what farms/firms say they do to promote women’s rights and the reality on the ground. Only a few companies have policies that protect women against violence and sexual harassment; provide protective wear for employees, allow full participation in trade unions and allow rights based strategies. The implementation of policies and legal frameworks favors those in formal employment over the majority of workers who are temporary, casual and seasonal workers. Government capacity to implement and monitor the policies is constrained by resource limitations of the public budget.

There is need to collectively bargain for better pay than the minimum wage especially for female workers who are under paid given the heavy workloads and long hours in which casual/seasonal workers are subjected to. In some cases, women work with children on their backs and without protective gear. Hivos will collaborate with Government Ministries championing labor issues such as the Ministry of Gender, Social Welfare, Children and Disability: Agriculture and Labor and Manpower development. Other key stakeholders for decent work for women include the International Labor Organization, the Ethical Tea Partnership,  the Centre for Social Research, the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU), the Malawi Union for the Informal Sector (MUFIS), the Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) and the Employers Consultative Association of Malawi (ECAM).


[1] National Statistics Office


[3] Malawi exports for peppers in 2014 amounted to US$ 1,888,000, Ministry of Agriculture indicates that sales increase to US$ 9.4million.

[5] the National Employment and Labor Policy, the 2013 Gender Equality Act (GEA), the National Gender Policy, and the Decent Work Country Program (implementation under review) are some of the key Malawian Government policies and frameworks

[6] According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics (March 2016), 65.75% of the adult population (aged 15 years and above) in Malawi are able to read and write. For adult men, the literacy rate is 73% and for women it is 59%.

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  • Towards living wages in African horticulture value chains


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