Living Conditions in Malawi

Landlocked in southeastern Africa, Malawi is the fourth poorest country in the world. In 2017, over 70 percent of its 17 million residents lived on less than $1.90 a day.  The largest formal sector employing Malawians is the tea industry.

In 2015, a union of Malawian tea producers, the largest international tea buyers, NGOs and other relevant organizations and donors joined the Malawi Tea 2020 partnership. This program’s main purpose is to develop a booming, environmentally sustainable tea industry that can transform increased profitability into improved living conditions in Malawi by 2020. A living wage for workers, a motivated workforce with better opportunities for women and a profitable smallholder sector are cornerstones of this platform.

Already half-way through the program, here are five ways that Malawi Tea 2020 has made progress on improving living conditions in Malawi.

5 Ways Malawi Tea 2020 is Improving Living Conditions in Malawi

  1. Wage Growth: Tea producers have increased workers’ wages several times since Malawi Tea 2020’s inception. While accounting for the high rate of inflation, it stands that the gap between real wages and living wages is narrowing.
  2. Increased Protections and Opportunities for Women: The Tea Association of Malawi (TAML) formed the first-ever Gender Equality, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Policy in 2017. They established Gender and Women’s Welfare Centers in each estate, creating systems to address sexual assault and prevent harassment through education. They also began female leadership training. 268 out of 300 targeted women attended weekly leadership training in 2018 creating more opportunities for Malawian women to advance professionally.
  3. More Profitable Smallholder Sector: In the 2018 growing season, 1,734 farmers (78 percent female) attended Farmer Field Schools (FFS) to learn more about good agricultural practices. From last season’s FFS graduates, 99 percent say they saw an increase in crop yield versus prior seasons. A total of 6,189 farmers, or 34 percent of all tea farmers in Malawi, have benefitted from FFS. Similarly, 2,655 farmers participated in Malawi Tea 2020’s Farmer Business School training (FBS) in 2018 to learn better business skills.  Since 2015, 3,300 smallholder farmers have increased their incomes by increasing their yield with better farming and business techniques.
  4. Improved Worker Benefits: Managers have removed barriers to unionization resulting in more unions representing worker wishes. The first collective bargaining agreement in Malawi’s tea industry was signed creating a degree of wage negotiation and an 11 percent increase in wages. Also, the Housing and Sanitation Policy was developed to address problematic living conditions in Malawi. From 2016-2017, TAML demolished almost all poor-condition Category D houses, constructed 51 new houses, and renovated 16 houses.
  5. Improved Nutrition for Workers and Families: Through a meal fortification program, over 40,000 tea workers received fortified mid-day meals daily as well as fresh vegetables once a week leading to higher quality nutrition.

There is still a lot of work left to complete to secure quality working and living conditions in Malawi, but programs like Malawi Tea 2020 are consistently making progress and laying the groundwork towards accomplishing these goals.

Camryn Lemke
Photo: Flickr