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Location of Malawi in Africa
Industry Overview


Wilson Nandolo

Malawi flag
Based on a MALAWI REPORT as a contribution to the FINAL REPORT ON THE STATE OF THE WORLD'S ANIMAL GENETIC RESOURCES prepared by: N.C. Chintsanya, D.O. Chinombo, T.N. Gondwe, G. Wanda, A.R.E Mwenda, M.C. Banda and J.C. Hami. for FAO


The Malawian livestock industry is composed of three main sectors: the producers, the service providers and the regulatory authorities.

The producers

The producers comprise a few commercial farmers and many small scale producers, most of which keep livestock mainly as walking banks and for reasons other than as sources of regular income. Production levels are generally low.

The service providers

The service providers include researchers; consultants; suppliers of inputs; sellers of livestock and livestock products; development organisations and associations and their supporting donors; as well as government. Accessibility of most of the service providers and the services they offer to the average farmer is limited. So far, it is the organisations and associations that seem to be making positive impact on the average farmer.

The reasons for this scenario may be that there are not enough service providers (and the few that are there tend to be concentrated in urban or peri-urban areas, or have very weak links with the rural producer), or that the producers themselves do not seek these services, or create demand for the services. (This view may be augmented by the observation that generally, farmers tend to welcome development initiatives in which their investment is minimal, such as is the case with most of the activities of the development organisations and associations.)

The main service provider since independence was the government through the department responsible for livestock (it passed with different names over the years). These days livestock service delivery is said to be demand-driven and has been pluralised, meaning that other players are free to participate. Surprisingly, not many people have taken up the opportunity.

The regulatory authorities

The main regulatory authority in the livestock industry is the Department of Animal Health and Livestock Development (DAHLD). It makes policies which are translated into laws and regulations, and it is empowered to see to it that everybody abides by the laws. DAHLD does this in collaboration with the Malawi Police Service, Malawi Bureau of Standards, the Department of Agricultural Research Services, the Ministry of Health and other government Departments and Ministries.

Current Production Estimates and Production System Sources

Small-scale farmers on 6.1 million hectares keep an estimated 80% of livestock population under extensive production system. The most frequently kept livestock under smallholder farmers are poultry, small ruminants and pigs with a small number of cattle.

Large-scale farmers on 1.2 million hectares raising various livestock species under semi or intensive production systems keep the remaining 20% of the livestock population

High input production system

Beef production

Animals are fattened in large scale feed-lots – the majority of which are found in the Shire Valley. These are intensively fed using crop residues, agricultural by-products and concentrates for up to the time they are ready for slaughter. The target animals are non-breeding stock that is sourced from the open market and own animals. Males from the dairy scheme, which usually range from 2-4 herds per unit, are also stall fed for beef production. Currently there are limited smallholder stall-feeding schemes and this activity is dominant in central and southern region where crop residues are utilized.

Dairy Production

Of the 31 large-scale dairy farms in Malawi, 22 are privately and government owned with a total of 4,000 milking cows mainly Friesian or Holstein, with a few Ayrshire and Jersey, and these farms are concentrated in southern Malawi. They generally use imported semen, sourced from Africa, Europe and America.

Most of these farms grow maize and Napier grass for ensiling. Rhodes grass and other forage legumes are established for grazing and hay production. Supplement feeds are generally based on groundnut, cotton seed and sunflower cakes, maize and its by-products, and soybean all of which are fed with mineral supplements. However, the 7supply of concentrate feed is often interrupted, and generally expensive, since they are sourced from production areas away from intended utilization locations.

Management levels vary considerably. Some farmers report high yields, whereas many achieve lactation yields of 2,000-3,000kg, which is low for the region. They all dip or spray weekly for tick control, as well as routine deworming. Despite the health measures used, farmers report problems with tick borne diseases, mastitis, reproductive efficiency, pneumonia especially in calves, foot rot and abscesses.

The smallholder dairying system is based on Malawi Zebu crosses with Friesian cattle which started in 1969. There are presently around 11,600 crossbred animals of which 5,600 are cows owned by 3,600 smallholder farmers including 600 female farmers operating in the 43 Milk Bulking Groups (MBGs) situated in the three milk shed areas, the largest of which is Blantyre

Typically, a smallholder keeps 2 – 4 animals, but groups of smallholders keep much larger numbers of up to 20 – 30 cows, which is becoming increasingly common in Blantyre. Farmers used to obtain their cattle from government farms, but from 1990, the main source has been from fellow farmers or estates. Starting in the late 1980s, but particularly since 1993, stock theft has become a major issue. In the northern region, and specifically Karonga, cattle are tethered. It is a production system adapted to take advantage of the manure droppings.


Sheep Production

There is limited sheep intensive production within the estate sector including urban backyards. The production units do not exceed 30 herds per intake and are usually infrequent. The common exotic breed kept is Dorper and its crosses with the local species.

Pig Production

Pig intensive production systems are mainly done in areas surrounding the urban centers in all the three regions of the country. Intensive production accounts for around 12% of the pig production and a higher percentage of total output. This types of producer is entirely commercial and the most receptive to advice and amenable to investment. The common exotic breeds kept are Large White and Land Race. They are bred and fattened on the farm. These are basically fed on concentrates; mainly cereal by-products, which constitutes 70% of the production costs. All necessary health management practices are followed and disposal is normally at economic weight.

Poultry Production

The commercial poultry sector is concentrated around cities, trading centres and urban backyards. This sector comprises less than 10% of the total chicken population of 12 million. Both smallholder and large-scale producers are involved in egg and broiler production. For egg production, the Hyline breed is used, while for broiler, the Cobb and Ross breeds are used. Tokai breed has been imported from South Africa to small-scale farmers at 6 weeks. The minimum stock for both systems is normally 50 per herd. Broilers are raised under deep litter production systems, while layers are raised under both deep litter and cage management systems. These birds are intensively fed commercial rations, and disease control measures are strictly followed.

Medium Input Production Systems

Dairy Production

Most smallholder dairy farmers practice mixed farming. The animals are on cut and carry feeding regimes and sometimes are supplemented with commercial rations, crop residues and minerals. Disease control is intensively practiced and animals are housed in shaded standard pens. The average smallholder size is 2 – 4 animals per unit. The dairy breeds comprise Holstein, Friesian, Jersey and their crosses with Malawi Zebu. Normally artificial insemination is used. Their calves are allowed to suckle after milking in the morning and afternoon. The local breeds are used for the introduction of local adaptability traits (disease tolerance, low quality feed utilization), while the exotics are basically utilized for milk yield potential traits.

Pig production

Pig breeds are basically landraces, large white and their crosses with the indigenous species. These are housed and are sparingly fed commercial rations, but subsist on farm produced feeds, house refuse and industrial wastes.

Poultry production

Poultry breeds used are basically Black Australop and their crosses with local breeds for both meat and egg production. In addition, they also keep Hyline and their crosses with local stock for egg production. These are normally on free range and occasionally supplemented with concentrates and they are also housed.

Low Input Production Systems

Beef Production

Multiple ownership within one herd is common and is kept on customary land . The 1992/93 NASSA Survey showed that 9% of the farming families own cattle. Cattle are confined at night in pens or open space tethered to a stake or tree. They graze in communal areas for variable periods during the day, generally herded by small boys. During the dry season, after the main crops have been harvested, cattle graze on crop residues and in the wetlands areas (dambos) that flood during the wet season. Cattle are moved from one grazing area to another depending on the availability of forage. During this period (after the rains), the condition of stock is generally good. However, towards the end of the dry season, cattle start losing weight as crop residues become less available and burning commences as part of land preparation for the coming crop season.

Cattle travel long distances for watering and grazing before the rains since most sources are inadequate or not available. Due to the high labour requirements for crop cultivation at the beginning of the rainy season, cattle are frequently left in open muddy kholas until late in the morning and returned early in the evening resulting in reduced grazing hours. With grazing concentrated within small areas between crops and on dambo fringes, tick-borne diseases and helminthiasis increase and this results in high mortality rates, particularly in calves.

Breeding is not controlled in the majority of the herds as no structured selection procedures are followed. Inferior bulls are used communally and inbreeding is common, the degree of which has not been determined. Studies in the Lilongwe area indicate that, in a normal year, a distinct breeding season occurs from July through December with around 85% of the calves born from April through September. A period of maximum fertility occurs during September, October and November, towards the end of the dry season, producing a peak calving period in June, July and August when some 60% of the calves are born. This seasonality produces a cyclical effect, in that heifers that miss the breeding season in one year will tend not to breed until the following year.

There are considerable variations in overall calving percentage between years, and between herds within one year, but the national herd average appears to be around 60%. There is no economic justification for livestock ownership other than cultural-social aspects including services. In general there is low productivity whose technologies for improvement are specific.

Small ruminants

Goats are mostly raised than sheep and outnumber them by 16:1 in 1993 and 4:1 in 2003. These are held in small flocks by some 15% of all family households compared with sheep which are only kept by 1% of all farming households. There is high off take of goats of 24%. In Malawi two major small ruminants production systems are practiced during the wet season, namely tethering or herding. Tethering is widely practiced in densely cropped areas and is employed primarily to prevent crop damage. Up to 90% of small ruminant farmers in the Central and Southern regions of Malawi tether their animals during the wet season. Herding is practiced widely in the northern region where some land is left fallow under natural vegetation.

Poultry production

Local chickens are on free range with little or no supplementations. They are occasionally housed, hence go out early in the morning and come back very late in the evening. Indigenous birds depend on fetching own feed with little supplementation. Housing is not specialised including dwelling houses beings pens and brooders. Turkeys, ducks, pigeon and geese are some other poultry species kept in all agricultural sub sectors under low-input and out-put management system. These do not have planned market-oriented objectives for their keeping.

Pig production

Pigs are basically indigenous breeds and are occasionally housed. The animals are generally on free-range scavenging system and there are prescribed disease control measures, which are followed. These however contribute over 50% of all pork consumed at national level.

Non – Conventional Livestock (NCL)

Rabbits are kept by some rural and urban households and are becoming increasingly popular in the rural areas as part of the promotion of agricultural diversification. They are mostly raised in ground level houses. Rabbits are fed on crop and vegetable by-products and weeds. Live weights of around 1.5kgs are achieved in 5-6 months. Reliable production parameters for rabbits kept under village conditions are yet to be established. However, the main problems are losses through escape and predation, coccidiosis, mange and mites.

Other non-conventional livestock, such as guinea fowls, guinea pigs and cane rat are also popular and are raised under subsistence production system.

Organisational structure of the Malawian livestock industry

There are some associations that are responsible for the promotion of livestock production. In the dairy sector, smallholder farmers are organized at area level forming Milk Bulking Groups that form regional associations. These are Shire Highland Milk Production Association (SHMPA), in the South, Mpoto Dairy Farmers Association (MDFA) in the North and. Milk Producers Association (CREMPA) in the Central. There are also Village Livestock Groups (VLG), which mainly look at health of animals and attempts on stock theft reduction. The dairy commercial producers operate independently but they are part of the National Association that oversees dairy farmers and other stakeholders.

Not all poultry producers belong to the Poultry Industry Association of Malawi (PIAM). However, both commercial and some smallholder producers belong to this body. The association is mandated to promote poultry production and there are no regional poultry associations.

There have been breeding and communal grazing committees in the country in early 60s to mid 70s which were in areas of Mzimba (Njinge). T.A. Symon, Lilongwe, Neno, Phalombe. These were government initiated and had varying success and failures. It would appear there are no records on project outcome on the above improvement initiative.

There is a Livestock Association for all livestock classes for livestock owners in Chikwawa and Nsanje districts. There also exist farmers clubs on such species as guinea fowls, rabbits, medium pig production systems.

The important animal products in the country are milk, meat, eggs, hides, power, manure and prestige. The prestige aspect is important in the social circles. The Northern Region considers meat as the source of protein in addition to income. In the Southern Regional (especially lower shire) they consider livestock as storage of capital while the Central Region uses quite often the drought animals. The rural Northerners have the habit of taking milk than the Central and Southern. Use of manure is mostly practiced in the Central where as the Southern Region use the manure as fuel in addition to fertilizer.

Distribution of livestock

No categorically breed distribution has been done in the country and that the exotic breeds are basically crosses with local species and have varying breed composition.


Friesians and Holstein are present in all the three regions under high input production systems. Jersey and Ayrshire are present only in the southern region of Malawi, particularly in the estate or commercial sector. The Malawi Zebu is present in all the three regions under medium and low input production systems.


The Brahman is found in the north, central and southern parts of Malawi under all production systems. Boran is present in the central region, mostly Kasungu. The Sussex breed is found in the mid and Lower Shire Valley and traces in the central and northern regions around former ADMARC farms that kept animals. The local Malawi Zebu are present throughout the country under medium and low input production systems.


Merino, Dorper and the local sheep are widely adapted in the country under low and medium input production systems.


The local goat is widely distributed along the lake shore areas, Lilongwe plain or Lower Shire Valley. The Saanen are found in Salima and Lilongwe, whereas the Boer goats are widely distributed across all the regions.


All the breeds Landraces, Large White and Malawi local pigs are present in all the three regions


Widely distributed in the country


Present everywhere in the country i.e., all breeds, whereas exotic are mostly found in the urban areas.

Guinea fowls

Found everywhere but with concentrations in Karonga and Mchinji


Everywhere in the country


Everywhere in the country


Present everywhere but mostly around cities.


Present mostly in Dedza, Ntcheu, Mchinji and Lilongwe.


Same distribution as donkeys


Central and Southern regions

Consumption of livestock products

The consumption levels of livestock products are not well documented in Malawi. However, it is believed that the production level is less than the demand, so the estimated livestock products levels can be used as the lower limit of consumption levels, although for some prodcuts this estimation may not be correct.

More information

Distribution, production and consumption trends of animal products in Malawi by Wilson Kaumbata

Revolutionalising the livestock industry in Malawi by Prof. James Banda

Review of the Dairy Industry in Malawi by Imani Development Consultants

Opportunities to beef up the livestock industry by MIPA


CAST: Computer-Assisted Statistics Textbooks. It consists of a collection of electronic textbooks (e-books). Three e-books cover material in introductory statistical methods.


iLINOVA: Innovation for the Livestock Industry. 

InCIP: The indigenous Chicken Improvement Programme.

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