National Planning Commission (NPC) says Malawi is poised to attain a middle income status in the next 15 years if it manages population growth.
In an interview on Tuesday, NPC director general Thomas Chataghalala Munthali, commenting on the significance of containing the current population growth rate, said much as there is no one figure that can define the right population, having population growing more than the economy can provide for is a huge challenge for the country.
He said: “Simple evidence shows that Malawi would be a middle income economy with a person earning $1 000 [K760 000] from less than $400 by 2035 if population was growing at replacement levels or basically having around two children per woman,” he said.
Currently, Malawi’s population growth rate is estimated at around three percent, a rate the Bretton Woods institution describes as the single greatest challenge to improving human capital development and economic prosperity.
On the other hand, Malawi’s fertility rate is pegged at 4.4 percent but such a rate can go up to six percent in some cases, especially in rural areas.
While the country has made good progress in human development outcomes in the last two decades, demographic experts argue that further progress on reducing fertility rates, particularly among adolescent girls is critical to support improvements in human capital development and inclusive economic growth.
“Otherwise at present fertility and population growth levels, it will take more than 30 years for us to attain the middle income status unless we make some significant breakthrough in technology to propel our national incomes,” said Munthali.
He said illustratively, evidence shows that $10.86 billion could be saved between 2015 and 2050 if the fertility rate decreases from 4.4 percent to 2.3 percent.
On the impact that the high population is unleashing, Munthali said such a situation is exerting pressure on land which is resulting into social unrest while deepening poverty, especially given the largely un-diversified economy.
The recent World Bank Malawi Economic Monitor (MEM) said reducing the fertility rate will also help reduce stunting and relieve population pressures on limited agricultural land and government services.
It said the reducing Malawi’s current fertility rates could lift over eight million people out of poverty.
The World Bank defines lower middle-income economies as those with a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita between $1 006 (about K764 560) and $3 955 (about K3 million) and upper middle-income economies have a GDP per capita between $3 956 (about K3 million) and $12 235 (about K9 million) as of 2018.
Currently, Malawi’s GDP per capita income is pegged at around $400 (K304 000) and is derived by dividing the country’s total wealth by the population in a year.