Malawi Country Profile

This page was last edited on at


Malawi is one of Africa’s largest exporters of tobacco leaf. In July 2020, the population of Malawi was estimated to be approximately 21.2 million.1 The World Bank classifies Malawi as a low-income country.2

Tobacco Use in Malawi

The STEPS Survey, 2017 reported a current tobacco use prevalence of 22% male (18-69 years) and 3% female (18-69 years). The Global Youth Tobacco Survey, 2009 (ages 13-15) found that 16.7% of boys and 11.4% of girls were current tobacco users.3

Tobacco in Malawi

Malawi is one of Africa’s largest tobacco leaf producers and in 2015, produced 22.6% of all of Africa’s output of tobacco leaf.4 In 2018, 95,356 tonnes of tobacco were harvested in Malawi.5 It is one of the world’s largest producers of burley tobacco. In 2015, tobacco farming took up more than 5% of all of Malawi’s farming land – the highest percentage anywhere in the world, at that time. In the same year, it also had the fourth highest deforestation rate in the world; according to the government, tobacco is a major driver of forest loss in the country.6

Government ministers have called tobacco a “strategic crop” for Malawi and defended the country’s continuing investment in its production.7 However, earnings from tobacco leaf export have declined sharply over recent years.8

Three of the big four transnational tobacco companies, Philip Morris International (PMI), Imperial Brands and British American Tobacco (BAT) all purchase tobacco leaf from the two main leaf distributors in the country: Universal Leaf (in Malawi, known as Limbe Leaf) and Alliance One.9 Japan Tobacco International (JTI) buys its own leaf from the country. The Chinese National Tobacco Corporation (CNTC), the largest tobacco company in the world, also buys small amounts of tobacco from leaf purchasing companies Limbe Leaf and Alliance One.10

The cigarette market in Malawi in 2018 was estimated to be worth US$101.9 million and 2,408.9 million sticks by Euromonitor International.11

Roadmap to Tobacco Control

Malawi ratified the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in August 2023.12 However, as of 2021, it lacked a tobacco control programme and had implemented almost no tobacco control measures.3

In 2018, the Malawian Parliament passed the Tobacco Industry Bill to update the Tobacco Act (1970)13 and prevent the exploitation of farmers by tobacco companies.14 This is not, however, a tobacco control act: as researchers from the Centre for Agricultural Research & Development in Lilongwe commented in Tobacco Atlas, “although the Act was touted as protecting the growers, many farmers argue that the Act actually harms the farmers more than was the case before the new Act”.15 Instead, the Act and its update regulate tobacco growing and wholesale buying, selling and export of tobacco leaf.16 JTI said it had worked alongside government on the Bill’s formulation in 2018 with “stakeholders in the tobacco industry” and expressed its support for the Bill, saying it hoped it would “not be delayed”.17

For more details, please see the following websites:

Tobacco Industry Interference in Malawi

Leaf sourcing companies, including Alliance One, regularly publicise their corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, including the construction of schools and donations to orphanages as a strategy to address child labour or to disaster relief funds, in press coverage.1819202122 In one article, Alliance One was commended for building a school “in Malawi’s President Chakwera’s home area”. The company reportedly had spent MK153 million (approximately US$201,750) on primary school construction projects in the country.19 Tobacco industry CSR, and its promotion, is called “an inherent contradiction” by the WHO FCTC, which recommends against banning all such activities by tobacco companies.23

The Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco-Growing Foundation (ECLT), an organisation funded and governed by tobacco companies, is active in Malawi. The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, a front group wholly funded by PMI, also operates in the country. It has several grantees in the country, including the Centre for Agricultural Transformation (CAT) and the Malawi Agricultural Policy Advancement and Transformation Agenda (MwAPATA) Institute.

Arguments about the importance of tobacco growing to Malawi’s economy are used by Malawian politicians to justify continued interaction and cooperation with the tobacco industry. In his September 2020 State of the Nation address, President Chakwera said:24

“while tobacco remains Malawi’s primary export and a key form of income for many Malawians, the crop is unlikely to provide a sustainable source of income in the longer-term given a decline in global demand. By working with tobacco companies, we can help blend other crop types into the farmers’ mix over time. Diversification efforts such as this can contribute significantly to household food security while supporting the establishment of a more resilient agricultural system. This is especially important given the resources, expertise, and strong domestic and international networks which tobacco companies can offer.”

The government of Malawi has engaged with the tobacco industry on tobacco pricing25 and foreign investment.26

In 2024, an investigation by media outlet ZAM and the Malawian Platform for Investigative Journalism reported that Alliance One paid almost no corporate income tax in Malawi in 2020 and 2021.27 Alliance One is Malawi’s second largest tobacco leaf merchant, with a market share of around 40%. It exported US$319 million in raw tobacco between 2020 and 2022, yet it paid no corporate income tax at all in 2020, and just US$41,000 in 2021.27 Corporate income tax in Malawi is supposed to be 30% of a company’s profit.28 During the same period, Alliance One sent payments abroad of around US$1.4 million and US$2.8 million.27

Alliance One, which is a subsidiary of the US agricultural company Pyxus International, supplies both BAT and Imperial Brands.2729

Attempts to influence international organisations using Malawi’s government

Another way that the tobacco industry gains access to policymakers, and therefore legislation, is through positioning itself as a ‘partner’ in development. Prior to the passage of the WHO FCTC in 2003, the tobacco industry influenced the government of Malawi to promote the arguments that tobacco control would result in job losses and foreign earnings that temporarily succeeded in distracting from the health benefits of tobacco control policies but was ultimately unsuccessful in weakening the WHO FCTC. This is an example of how tobacco companies use developing countries’ economic dependence on tobacco to lobby against global tobacco control.30

Similarly, alongside the 2014 UN General Assembly (UNGA), which the industry is prevented from attending, the tobacco industry met with the Malawian President to urge him to represent its interests on a global stage. The then-Chairman and CEO of Universal Leaf Tobacco Company, George Freeman, met with the then-President Mutharika to “brief him on their operations in Malawi”. Freeman urged the President to “support the Integrated Production System (IPS)” and requested the government “lobby with the U.S. government” to request that tobacco be included in the renewed African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) after 2015.31 IPS is an industry-developed structure that adds supervision by technicians to the normal contract farming arrangement.32 The President responded that “Government will do everything possible to ensure a cordial relationship with companies in the tobacco industry”.31

Extensive research published in 2021 by the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, a partner in STOP, and in conjunction with BBC’s Panorama, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project uncovered multiple instances of British American Tobacco seeking to frustrate tobacco control measures in Africa.

Relevant Links

TobaccoTactics Resources


Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. US Central Intelligence Agency, Africa: Malawi, The World Factbook, last updated 24 November 2020, accessed November 2020
  2. World Bank Country and Lending Groups, The World Bank, 2020, accessed November 2020
  3. abWorld Health Organization, WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, 2021 – Country profile, Malawi, accessed March 2024
  4. World Health Organization, United Nations, Status of Tobacco Production and Trade in Africa: Factsheets, WHO/UNCTAD publication, 2015, accessed November 2020
  5. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, FAOSTAT Data, undated, accessed November 2020
  6. J. Vidal, Malawi’s forests going up in smoke as tobacco industry takes its toll, The Guardian, 31 July 2015, accessed November 2020
  7. R. Ngwira, Chilima says tobacco is a strategic crop for Malawi, Face of Malawi, 26 June 2015, accessed November 2020
  8. D. Mlanjira, Africa and Eastern Asia doing well to contain Coronavirus, Nyasa Times, 30 September 2020, archived October 2020, accessed November 2020
  9. S. Boseley, D. Levene, The children working the tobacco fields: ‘I wanted to be a nurse’, The Guardian special report, 25 June 2018, accessed November 2020
  10. J. Smith, L. DeSouza, J. Fang, Eastern Africa’s tobacco value chain: links with China, Third World Quarterly, 2020;41(7):1161-1180, doi:10.1080/01436597.2020.1736544
  11. Passport, Tobacco market size: Malawi, Euromonitor International, accessed November 2020 (paywall)
  12. WHO Regional Office for Africa, Malawi’s ratification of WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control comes into effect, 16 November 2023, accessed March 2024
  13. MalawiLII, Tobacco Act, 1970, accessed November 2020
  14. O. Mavula, Parliament passes Tobacco Industry Bill, mbc news, 4 December 2019, accessed November 2020
  15. D. Makoka, T. Moyo, Malawi: Legislative Malfeasance and a Meaningful Shift to Viable Alternatives to Tobacco Growing, Tobacco Atlas, 11 June 2020, accessed November 2020
  16. M. Chikoti, JTI hopes Tobacco Bill will not be delayed, Malawi 24, 17 November 2018, accessed December 2020
  17. M. Chapalapata, Limbe Leaf donates K40m school equipment to Mzimba: ‘Corporate social responsibility’, Nyasa Times, 12 November 2020, accessed November 2020
  18. abI. Kambwiri, Alliance One builds school in President Chakwera’s home area, Nyasa Times, 3 November 2020, accessed November 2020
  19. C. Chinoko, Alliance One renovates three primary schools, The Nation, 5 November 2020, accessed November 2020
  20. I. Kambwiri, Alliance One spends K71 million on school renovations, Nyasa Times, 25 October 2020, accessed November 2020
  21. C. Namadzunda, Alliance One Donates to Lilongwe Orphanage Center, Nyasa Times, 9 August 2019, archived August 2019, accessed November 2020
  22. Tobacco Free Initiative, Tobacco industry and corporate responsibility…an inherent contradiction, World Health Organization, 2003, accessed November 2020
  23. MBC Online, President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera’s State of the Nation Address (Full Text), mbc, undated, accessed November 2020
  24. Y. Sabola, President Mutharika to engage tobacco buyers over prices, MANA Online, 17 April 2019, accessed November 2020
  25. S. House, Egypt’s Eastern tobacco Co to invest in Malawi, mbc, 29 May 2020, accessed November 2020
  26. abcdJ. Chinele, Z. Nazaruk, Malawi | Missing out on green gold, ZAM, 29 February 2024, accessed March 2024
  27. Z. Nazaruk, J. Chinele, Smokes and mirrors: How Big Tobacco may have avoided Malawi’s taxman, The Continent, 2 March 2024, accessed March 2024
  28. J. Chinele, Z. Nazaruk, Uncovering Alliance One’s Tax Practices in Malawi: Where Do The Profits Go?, Platform for Investigative Journalism, 1 March 2024, accessed March 2024
  29. M.G. Otañez, H.M. Mamudu, S.A. Glantz, Tobacco Companies’ Use of Developing Countries’ Economic Dependence on Tobacco to Lobby Against Global Tobacco Control: The Case of Malawi, American Journal of Public Health, 2009;99(10):1759-1771, doi:10.2105%2FAJPH.2008.146217
  30. abMinistry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Press Briefing on return of His Excellency Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi, From the Sixty Ninth (69th) Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), New York, United States of America, September 2014
  31. T. Sabola, JTI Malawi drills reporters,, 2 October 2018, accessed November 2020