Malawi, the sleeping African giant
Some 580km long, it's the country's most prominent physical feature and it contains more fish species than any other lake on Earth.
The name Malawi comes from the Maravi, a name used by the Nyanja people who inhabited the area, long before colonialism. The Nyanja also referred to themselves as the Nyasa.
The Nyanja are friendly, helpful and truly a workforce to be reckoned with.
Ranked as one of the least developed countries in the world, Malawi is, however, the second-largest producer of one of the most well-known products in the world - tobacco.
In the Southern African Development Community region, Malawi is the second-largest producer of the product after Zimbabwe.
Tobacco is one of Malawi's largest exports and a major contributing factor to the gross domestic product (GDP) alongside sugar, coffee/tea and vegetables.
Despite the effects of weather on agriculture, land is a key productive asset and a source of livelihood for most citizens, especially the poor. Carry over in the imported stocks from 2017 has impacted on a decline in the number of people expected to be food insecure, with this number declining from 6.7 million in 2016/17 to 837 000 in 2017/18 (Malawi vulnerability assessment committee, 2017).
The volume of maize required to meet the dietary needs of these food insecure people is estimated at 23 000 tons. This need is likely to be met domestically, in part from large reserves, including an estimated 130 000 tons in carry-over stocks held by Admarc and the National Food Reserve Agency.
The country has a GDP of $6.4 billion (R91.8bn) and a population of 19.2 million, driven by agriculture with arable land forming almost 60 percent. This gives employment to about 80 percent of the country's total population.
Malawi is heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture, with maize being the staple crop. The economy was hit hard by the El Niño-driven drought in 2015 and 2016, and growth slowed to 3.5 percent in 2018 due to dry spells and an armyworm infestation in agriculture.
The drought also slowed economic activity, led to two consecutive years of declining economic growth, and contributed to high inflation rates. However, a decline in food-inflation rates, driven mostly by the increased availability of affordable maize on domestic markets and the export ban on maize, kept prices artificially low.
The lower inflation rate will boost the competitiveness of Malawian exports on international markets and stimulate the secondary sectors of an economy that is diversifying revenue sources for the country.
In 2015, a University of Western Australia study concluded that Malawian Fanta was the best in the world. The fizzy drink, which originated in Germany, varies in taste and formula across the world due to the orange juice proportions each country adds to the mix.
Surprisingly, Southern Bottlers Limited Malawi has mastered the formula and created the best. Which brings us to the Neil Economic Table which rates the prices of a can of 300ml Coca-Cola at $0.70 and a litre of petrol at $1.20, very much on par with South Africa.
All in all, when Malawi – the country of water, agriculture and smiling citizens – goes to national elections two weeks after South Africa, the hope will be that it will awaken the sleeping giant it deserves to be.
Neil de Beer is the president of the IFA (Investment Fund Africa) and consults to many African states on commerce - [email protected] / www.ifa.africa