Malawi

One of the world’s poorest nations, Malawi sits in southeast central Africa just south of the equator. Bordered by Mozambique to the east, Zambia to the west, and Tanzania to the north, Malawi was formerly a British Protectorate known as Nyasaland. Since 1964, Malawi has been independent nation and a member of the British Commonwealth.

In 1994, Malawi successfully made a peaceful transition to a democratic multiparty system from a single party system. Malawi’s current president, women’s rights activist Joyce Banda, was elected in 2012.

Economic climate

Landlocked Malawi ranks among the world’s least developed countries. The economy is predominantly agricultural, with about 85% of the population living in rural areas. Agriculture accounts for a large portion of the country’s GDP, with the biggest export being tobacco. While other industries have been assisted by Western pushes for fair trade pricing structures, there is no fair trade system for tobacco and farmers continue to be ripped off by multinational tobacco companies.

The economy depends on substantial inflows of economic assistance from donors, but many of these flows have been cut off because of suspected corruption. The government faces strong challenges to fully develop a market economy, improve educational facilities, face up to environmental problems, deal with the rapidly growing problem of HIV/AIDS, and satisfy foreign donors that fiscal discipline is being tightened.

Language

The official languages are Chewa and English, but in rural areas most people do not understand English.

Environment

The terrain and climate are extremely varied. Malawi’s major geological feature is the great rift fault that runs through the country from north to south. Part of this depression is filled by Lake Malawi, which takes up one fifth of the land area. The rest is made up of plateaus of varying altitudes. The most temperate region is the southern part, which contains most of the population and economic activities.

The lowlands receive heavy rainfall and are covered by grasslands, forests or rain forests, depending on the amount of rainfall they receive.

The degradation of the soil and deforestation are major environmental problems, as well as climate change – which manifests itself in extreme rainfall events and longer dry spells.

Area of operation

Our programme covers the entire district of Nkhotakota in central Malawi, one of the least developed regions of an already poor nation. There is little in the way of infrastructure or construction. The area covered is just in excess of 4,000 square kilometres and the latest population estimate is 301,000. There is no industry in this region and few job opportunities, as most people here are subsistence farmers or fishermen.

The region is divided into six Traditional Authorities; Kanyenda, Malangachanzi, Mphonde, Kafuzila, Mwazama and Mwasambo. Its eastern boundary is Lake Malawi; its western is effectively Nkhotakota game reserve.

HIV/AIDS is still the leading cause of death among adults, with 12% of the population infected with the virus.