One of the burning issues during the recent presidential running mates debate in Mzuzu was the negative impact of Malawi’s large population on socio-economic development. All three panellists agreed that the country’s poverty levels have been aggravated by the ever-growing population, which has doubled since 1999.
I have no problems with suggestions to keep population growth in check. However, Malawi can actually benefit from her large population if she learns from other countries that have utilised their population to accelerate economic development.
I live in China which has the world’s largest population and here are a few lessons Malawi can use.
China’s population is a staggering 1.41 billion. Ordinarily, this should have easily made China the world’s poorest country grappling with housing, feeding and educating its people. Yet, China is currently an emerging economic superpower projected to overtake the USA soon. While several reasons account for its economic rise, its huge population has massively contributed to this success.
A large population has provided a broad source of cheap labour as well as a market for goods made in China.
Cheap labour has long been considered a major factor behind the Chinese economic miracle. China has utilized its cheap skilled and unskilled workforce to work in various sectors, including agriculture which employs 40 percent of Chinas labour force.
Malawi’s situation is not entirely different. Our country heavily relies on agriculture. There is need to promote agro-based industries to incorporate the existing cheap labour.
The agriculture sector can be revamped by investing heavily, creating incentives for farming and intensify crop diversification.
I dare say that Malawi’s economic fortunes can miraculously change if majority of its idle population took part in some agricultural endeavours. It worries me to see energetic young men idling in townships as minibus touts. They should be coaxed to work in the agriculture field.
Cheap labour can also extend to other sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing industries. A large population helps ensure sufficient labour force in an economy.
Malawi has been blessed with a pool of cheap skilled and unskilled workers of any kind.
In fact, a large population increases the demand for basics, such as food, clothing, shelter, water and education.
More workers will have to be employed in producing food and clothes for the population. This is an obvious opportunity for companies to produce goods and services in larger quantity and more affordably, serving a larger number of low-income customers.
This creates a large market base. Chinese companies have successfully benefitted from its big population by targeting the large numbers of low and lower-middle income groups. Malawian companies and businesses can emulate this model to serve a multi-million customer base.
Apart from improving employment and market base, another advantage of a large population is that it can increase innovation. A large population has potential to pressure society to innovate to serve its masses better.
For instance, high-yield crops were developed to increase food production largely in response to growing population in China. Malawi has men and women with both creative and innovative minds for the economy to grow.
While a large population can potentially overburden a nation’s resources and depress living standards, it does not necessarily spell more trouble.
I resist joining the bandwagon of negative sentiments towards large population. I strongly believe that Malawi can benefit if majority of its people have opportunities to work in key sectors of the economy.
China represents a perfect example of how massive population can be a catalyst for national development. Malawi has the manpower to serve its empty, bigger market for her goods and services.