Malawi is a beautiful landlocked country which markets itself as the Warm Heart of Africa.
The land of smiles is full of contrast.
Despite an abundance of natural resources, the country faces numerous socio-economic, climate change and cultural challenges. Malawi ranks 170 out of 188 countries on the United Nations (UN) Human Development Index.
Nearly 85 percent of the population relies on subsistence farming for their livelihood.
The youth aged 10-35 constitute about 60 percent of the country’s population, but over 15 percent of young Malawians of employable age are unemployed.
High youth illiteracy and unemployment lead to migration and general disaffection. The rural areas are getting empty as people migrate to urban areas because they see no business and employment opportunities there. Those who stay put are mostly the elderly.
Malawi Growth and Development Strategy III calls for greater investment in areas that can spur growth.
Malawi’s tourism industry is largely based on natural resources and cultural heritage. However, its weakness lie in the fact that the tourism industry works in isolation from the agriculture industry.
The warm-hearted Malawians have earned the nation a great reputation globally. But, with increased influence of globalisation and Malawi’s transition to democracy, indigenous cultural practices and traditional friendliness are at risk of becoming extinct.
Mixing agriculture and tourism offers farmers the possibility of diversifying and generating additional income through on-farm touristic activities to supplement low agricultural income.
Agri-tourism is a new concept in Malawi yet with undeniable potential. It promotes inclusive involvement of local communities through creation of employment.
Beyond employment, the sector offers opportunities for supply of farm produce, sale of curios and crafts to tourists.
Promoting agri-tourism repositions political economy of peace building, a leverage to reduce poverty to achieve Sustainable Development Goals.
The agritourism industry creates the investment meeting the needs of youth.
Chikwawa District is among the most popular tourism hubs in the Lower Shire Valley, thanks to Lengwe National Park, Nyala Park, and Majete Game Reserve.
The rich cultural heritage of its Mang’anja and Sena people, who co-exist peacefully, is also another tourist attraction.
In a tale of North-South and South-South partnerships for grassroots, small-scale initiatives in agri-tourism, there is need for an enabling and mentoring environment to the development of agri-tourism in harnessing the youth bulge to maximise benefits from the youth as assets to develop the country.
This will reverse youth migration from rural to urban areas of Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe and Mzuzu in search of employment.
Presently, many young Malawians travel to neighbouring countries, especially South Africa, in search of jobs.
The agri-tourism will be a newfound treasure to the youth in rural communities; a catalyst for cultural events, early childhood development, household economic strengthening; and a learning opportunity for sustainable agronomic practices to avert the impact of climate change, youth migration to towns and harmful traditional practices.
Malawi’s unique position as a country with a youthful population would be an anchor to influence socio-economic gains. Only when we are open to learning new ideas to pursue socially innovative, environmentally sound and economically viable approaches in agritourism will we be ready to reboot our Warm Heart of Africa.
Only if you are committed to fulfilling the responsibility to contribute to the fight against poverty and to the global efforts to achieve sustainable development through the competive advantage of harnesssing the human capital, the youth.
Malawi has the window of opportunity to address the vulnerability of the youth. n