Unemployment, underemployment and employment in economically marginal work are a major challenge for development in Malawi, as in many least developed countries. The most recent Labour Force Survey shows that 21.7 percent of the nation’s youth aged 15-24 are neither in employment, education or training, and approximately 27 percent of those with a job are underemployed. Women are especially disadvantaged due to lower earnings than men and with two-thirds among those of working age in vulnerable employment.
The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Skills for Trade and Economic Diversification (STED) programme supports national partners to develop the current and future skills needed in tradable sectors for higher exports, import competition and greater diversification. The objective is to leverage skills to create opportunities for productive and decent employment – in line with Sustainable Development Goal targets 4.3, 8.5 and 8.6 – that will particularly benefit youth. Prospects for women are a cross-cutting issue factored into sector selection and support.
Here we look at skills development strategies implemented in the agricultural sector in Malawi, and consider some of the lessons that can be drawn for aid for trade initiatives more broadly.
Agricultural export potential in Malawi
Malawi is a landlocked least developed country that has seen moderate growth in recent years and whose national poverty rate remains above 50 percent. The economy is highly dependent on agriculture, which accounts for 64.1 percent of overall employment and 58.4 percent of youth employment, with a high share of women. The sector is dominated by smallholders, productivity is low and – with the exception of growers of major commodities such as tobacco and tea – predominantly services local markets. Around 13 percent of the working age population, mostly without secondary education, work in subsistence agriculture.
The Government of Malawi is committed to strengthening the employable skills of the country’s labour force. The latest National Export Strategy (2013-2018) identifies skills development as a fundamental requirement for business to realise the country’s growth and export potential. Harnessing this potential to become a regional exporter in agriculture is seen as an avenue for increasing employment and boosting economic growth.
In 2015, responding to the request by the Government of Malawi to support the achievement of Malawi’s National Export Strategy, the ILO, in collaboration with national partners, started implementation of the STED approach in oilseeds and horticulture. A STED analysis of Malawi’s horticulture sector showed that it is largely underdeveloped, with almost all firms serving the domestic market. Productivity is low, product quality is poor and weak supply chain logistics prevent smallholder farmers from accessing more lucrative markets through retail, processing and exports.
The study further indicated that the majority of firms believe that there is export demand for Malawian horticulture products. However, skills are a key limiting factor affecting the sector’s capacity to achieve its export ambitions, and even to supply domestic customers in retail and hospitality that require reliable deliveries of high quality vegetables. In response, a number of interventions were implemented targeting young women and men as part of a sectoral skills strategy.
Upgrading young people’s skills
One such intervention is a pilot project for youth in the horticulture sector called Work-Integrated Learning (WiL) that was developed and implemented in 2016 in partnership with the Malawi government and an employer association.
WiL is a value chain-based skills upgrading course intended to produce graduates with hands-on skills that meet industry needs. It is founded on the premise that training that takes place partially within the workplace will produce learning outcomes more closely aligned with labour market competency requirements.
The Work-Integrated Learning (WiL) model and its implementation in Malawi