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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


18.6 million

Proportion of population living on less than $1.90 a day:


Ranking on UN Human Development Index 2018:

171 out of 189

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 the Malawi Country Strategy Plan 2016-2020 (PDF, 1.31MB).

The aid programme is designed to be in line with Malawi’s Growth and Development Strategy, and aims to increase the resilience of poor households to economic, social and environmental shocks.  It is focused on the following key areas; agriculture and nutrition, resilience and good governance. 

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. 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.



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 wa 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) were held in May 2014, when Bingu wa Mutharika’s brother Peter Mutharika was elected President. The next tripartite elections will take place in May 2019.

Malawi is a relatively stable and peaceful country and has continued to make strong progress in respect of developing strong legislation, strategies and policies. Malawi is making significant progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals. Malawi’s National Growth and Development Strategy 2017-2022 was developed as the means of achieving the Global Goals and other longer term visions. The strategy aims to improve productivity, develop the country into a competitive nation and build resilience to shocks and hazards.

A Masai village in Malawi. Photo by Concern.


Malawi is currently considered the third poorest in the world, with 51.5 percent of the population below the poverty line and 20.1% considered ‘ultra-poor’.

Agriculture is the single largest sector of the Malawian economy accounting for almost 26% of GDP, and almost 80% of employment of the Malawian work-force., with most people relying on a single annual crop of maize grown during a short rainy season.

Malawi has experienced some economic growth in recent years, however overall the economy has remained very fragile. With persistent macro-economic problems and uneven policy implementation.

Potato farmers in Malawi gather in Bembeke Village


Malawi is ranked 171 out of 189 countries on the United Nation’s Human Development Index for 2017 (Ireland is currently ranked 4). Due to high dependence on rain fed agriculture, Malawi is highly vulnerable to climate change. The frequent climatic shocks such as floods and droughts result in high levels of food and nutrition insecurity.

Social vulnerability is often combined with more limited household means to generate income and/or to produce food: low levels of education, high dependence on informal daily labour, small plot sizes, and low agricultural productivity with high dependence on rain-fed cultivation, limited access to inputs like fertiliser and improved seeds and limited access to farm credit and agricultural training.

Communities in disaster prone areas, and households particularly vulnerable to poverty, often lack the resources to mitigate against these social, economic and climatic shocks. Despite these challenges Malawi has succeeded in reducing stunting rates amongst under five children from 47% in 2011 to 37% in 2016.

99% of Malawi’s rural population are still without access to electricity, and remain entirely dependent on biomass (wood) for daily energy requirements. This dependence on biomass for fuel, combined with severe land pressure has contributed to continued rapid deforestation. The rate is currently estimated at 3% per annum, one of the highest rates of deforestation in Africa.
Malawi ranks 145 out of 188 on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index (GII), and has a child marriage rate of 42%. Malawi maintains one of the highest HIV rates in the world, however the prevalence has dropped to under 10% and there has been a significant decline in new infections in recent years.


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:

Irish Aid is supporting the production and access to nutritious and climate resilient bean varieties. Credit, Irish Aid Malawi.

Improved sustainable livelihoods

Irish Aid is working alongside the Government of Malawi and other development partners to support households to have (i) increased capacity to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and socio-economic stress, and; (ii) improved food and nutrition security.

Through Irish Aid’s support, rural households in Malawi are benefiting from improved crop productivity and diversification. Given the serious effects of climate change on agriculture productivity, Irish Aid also supports smallholder famers to develop their capacity to adapt to the effects of climate change. These programmes provide opportunities for more diversified and nutritious crops; improved soil fertility and land management practices, and increased agricultural income.

Irish Aid also promotes dietary diversity and great access to high quality nutrition intervention at district and community level, with the overall aim of improved nutrition at household level.
Our work also aims to reduce household vulnerability and build the resilience of communities especially those that are prone to drought or floods. These interventions include; disaster risk management, irrigation, crop and livestock diversification, and access to microfinance.

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. Irish Aid supports the national social protection agenda in Malawi with a strong focus in promoting the scale up of the Malawi National Social Cash Transfer Programme and ensuring regularity, and predictability of monthly payments to beneficiaries.

Solfina a member of the Kauma Stove Production Group, locally producing an energy saving cookstove.  Credit, Robin Wyatt

Improved governance systems

Irish Aid recognises the importance of accountable and transparent governance systems. Through our governance programme we support a range of initiatives that seek to increase citizen voice for increased public accountability and improved local service delivery.

Support to the government’s public finance management system as well as supporting the government’s decentralisation policy has been central to Irish Aid’s work. 

Irish Aid also provides support to the establishment of national registration system, democratic elections process and strengthening access to justice for vulnerable communities.


How we spend our budget

Over the five year period of the Malawi Country Strategy (from 2016 to 2020), Irish Aid plans to provide in the region of €71 million.

Irish Aid Annual Report 2017 details the many results delivered through Ireland's aid programme, Irish Aid, across our partner countries, including Malawi, in 2017. It includes key policy developments, and details of Irish Aid expenditure across the world.


Malawi’s progress

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

  • There was a reduction in stunting among children under 5 years of age from 47% in 2011 to 37% in 2016.
  • Between 2012 to 2017 there was a reduction in ultra-poverty rate from 25% to 20%
  • The rate of under-five mortality (deaths per 1000) live births in the first 5 years has declined from 189 deaths per 1000 live births in 2000 to 63 in 2016
  • The number of people experiencing food insecurity reduced to under one million in 2017 from 6.5million in 2016
  • The government has developed a multi-sectoral National Resilience Strategy

How we have helped:

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

  • 11,034 ultra-poor households are benefitting from timely and predictable monthly social cash transfer payments through direct Irish Aid support.
  • Over 780,000 energy saving cook stoves have been adopted, resulting in positive impact on women’s time spent collecting firewood and reducing cooking time.
  • Over 1 million individuals were reached with an innovative package of livelihood interventions through a joint resilience programme resulting in an increase in real income for beneficiaries.
  • In partnership with Government and NGO consortia, Irish Aid provided funds (€2.7 million for the 2016/17) that targeted 12,670 people in Nsanje District with a tailored package of interventions to ensure a stronger base for future resilience. This emergency package was designed to go beyond short term humanitarian interventions, addressing the cyclical nature of extreme poverty.
  • 127,884 farmers (50% female famers) are benefiting from more nutritious, climate resistant varieties of beans, potato and vitamin A rich Orange Flesh Sweet Potato, significantly increasing the production and availability of improved and certified varieties of seed across the country.
  • Dedza district reported 82% drop in the total number of babies born underweight from 2017 to 2018, through Irish Aid nutrition support.
  • By 2017, over 9 million citizens have been registered through the National Registration Identification System surpassed its expected target.  The ID system is now being linked to other services such as including voter registration for the 2019 elections, banks, health and immigration.
  • Through a civil society support fund, jointly funded with DFID and Norway, 895,078 citizens were education on their rights and entitlements with 75% of project beneficiaries noting that the government has improved in responding to citizens or CSO demands.

Social Cash Transfer beneficiaries preparing for cash distribution in Balaka. Credit, Irish Aid Malawi

Read more

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