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Livestock production, protein supplies and the animal feed industry in Malawi - Andy C.L. Safaloah

Andy C.L. Safaloah
Senior Lecturer in Monogastric Nutrition, Department of Animal Science,
University of Malawi; Bunda College of Agriculture
Lilongwe, Malawi

This paper outlines the current status of livestock production, protein supplies and the animal feed industry in Malawi. Livestock production in Malawi is primarily subsistent where the majority of animals and poultry are kept under the extensive free-range system of management with little or no supplementation. Large-scale commercial livestock and poultry enterprises are few in number and are primarily the intensive type where the use of concentrates and/or protein feed ingredients is common. Available feed resources are either of animal (fishmeal, meat and bone meal) or plant origin (soybean meal, sunflower meal, cottonseed cake and groundnut cake). Neglected or underutilized protein sources include pigeon peas, cowpeas and chickpeas. Some protein sources used in the animal feed industry are imported from neighbouring countries. Most protein sources are incorporated in compounded feed for intensive poultry, pig, beef cattle and dairy production. The animal feed manufacturing industry is generally small with two main feed manufacturers supplemented by on-farm feed mixing. There is urgent need to explore the utilization of unconventional feedstuffs in order to increase the protein resource base and so improve livestock productivity.


Livestock production is an integral part of agricultural production in Malawi. Compared to crop production, livestock constitute a relatively small sub sector in Malawi’s agriculture. The livestock sector is typically a low-input-low-output management system with over half a million smallholder families (Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation [MoAI], 1999). Higher outputs of livestock production are experienced by a relatively small number of large-scale intensive commercial livestock/poultry enterprises, most of which are located in the urban and periurban areas of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu cities. Intensive production enterprises include broiler and layer production, beef cattle feedlots and pig and dairy production. These form the major outlets for protein sources.

Major constraints to livestock production include lack of improved breeds, lack of cheap quality feed, a weak livestock extension system, lack of appropriate managerial skills, lack of appropriate technology and weak livestock veterinary services. Of these, lack of good quality feed at affordable prices is the major problem. With low productivity, the livestock sector contributes less than its potential to national economic and agricultural growth.

In an attempt to facilitate the sustainable development of the livestock sub sector in Malawi and to respond to current national development objectives, the Malawi Government developed a National Livestock Master Plan in 1999 (MoAI, 1999). The plan includes a coherent strategic framework of desired policies, institutional reforms, legislative adjustment and investment programmes. Encouragingly, the plan recognizes the functional link between the crop and livestock sub sectors in relation to the livestock feed base.


Management systems

The livestock sub sector in Malawi primarily comprises small and large-scale sectors. At the smallholder level, there is little financial input in terms of housing, use of drugs and supplementary feeding. On the other hand, large-scale livestock production is intensive in nature and commonly uses concentrates as sources of protein. The Malawi Government is currently encouraging expansion of beef cattle stall feeding and dairy production among the estate sector. Expansion and intensification of this sector entails increased use of protein sources such as cotton seed cake or urea/molasses/mineral blocks to supplement high quality protein forage/legumes.

Large-scale intensive monogastric production (poultry and pigs) is mostly influenced by supply of good quality feed at reasonable and affordable prices.

Small ruminants such as goats and sheep are basically kept under the free-range system. Indigenous chickens comprise more than 80 percent of the chicken population in Malawi. These are kept under the free-range system. Broiler enterprises range from small units of 200-500 birds and large enterprises of more than 30 000 birds.

Livestock population/numbers

The national livestock database is particularly weak when compared with that developed for crops. Estimates of livestock populations incorporate a large margin of error. Discrepancies have always been seen between the two sources of livestock statistics: the National Statistical Office (NSO) and the Department of Animal Health and Industry-DAHI, (MoAI, 1999). DAHI maintains a record of livestock numbers through annual surveys carried out by Veterinary Assistants scattered throughout the country. The NSO, on the other hand, conducts periodic surveys of agriculture that include livestock. The discrepancies between these two institutions warrant establishment of a proper nation-wide livestock monitoring system.

It is clear from Table 1 that chickens are the most common type of stock kept. The MoAI (1999) reported that there were 61 200 pigs, 1 583 200 broiler chickens, 187 800 layers and 27 500 cattle (both dairy and beef) kept under intensive production systems.

Estimates of numbers for different types of livestock kept in Malawi.

Livestock specie



768 501


1 662 930


112 882


465 419


7 206 377

Guinea Fowls

74 640


363 416


114 817


127 029


2 276

Source: Department of Animal health and Industry, 2000


Information on availability of protein sources and their utilization in Malawi is scarce and the pattern of their use not fully known. This is mainly due to lack of funds and adequate expertise with which to conduct appropriate studies to determine the available feed resource base. There is also a lack of adequate and reliable laboratory facilities for chemical analyses to determine the nutrient composition of feedstuffs for feeding trials. Similarly, there is limited expertise in animal nutrition with only seven animal nutritionists at national level.

Rapid expansion and intensification of livestock production, especially poultry, have led to a sharp increase in requirements for concentrates. As a result there has been an increase in the requirements for the supply of protein sources.

Protein feed sources in Malawi are either of plant or animal origin. The commonly available type of animal protein is fishmeal. Fishmeal is produced from a mixture of fish remnants, non-gradeable fish and/or broken fish pieces. Fishmeal is currently sold at US$0.46/kg compared with US$0.25 for full fat soybean meal. Assuming crude protein content of 60 percent for fishmeal and 38 percent for full fat soybean meal, proteins from these sources cost US$0.77 and US$0.66 per kg respectively. Fishmeal is also imported from other countries such as South Africa and Chile.

Fishmeal is generally expensive and its use in animal feed is limited. It is a major source of protein for humans. The major source of fish is Lake Malawi with lesser quantities being supplied by small rivers.

Use of animal by-products from processing plants/slaughter houses such as meat and bone meal is limited due to low supply. One other potential protein source that goes to waste is that from the two major hatcheries. This is primarily due to lack of appropriate processing facilities.

Oilseed meals and grain legumes form the bulk of plant protein used in livestock feeds used by the animal industry. The main source of plant protein used in Malawi is soybean meal, most of which is the full fat type. This is due to the fact that there are very few plants processing oil from soybean in Malawi. Other plant protein sources include sunflower cake, cottonseed cake and groundnut cake. There is apparently very little use of legumes such as pigeon peas, cowpeas, and chickpeas. Traditional and unconventional plant protein sources are presented in Table 2. The Table indicates that the yield from legumes is low, probably due to poor husbandry practices. With proper management and use of the correct inputs, yields could be greatly improved.

Production of grain legumes in Malawi for the past five seasons is presented in Table 3. These are the legumes currently being evaluated by the Animal Science Department of the University of Malawi. Plant protein sources are fed directly or after on farm feed mixing as complete feeds, where maize meal is the main basal ingredient. Oil seed meals and legumes normally comprise 15-30 percent of the livestock diets.

Commonly used and potential plant protein sources available in Malawi


Scientific name

Area grown


Potential yield

Soybean meal

Glycine max

18 433



Sunflower meal

Helianthus annuus

15 460


3 000


Phaseolus vulgaris

106 627


2 500

Ground nuts

Arachis hypogaea

95 399


2 400

Pigeon peas

Cajanus cajan

87 758


2 500


Vignia unguiculata

48 157


2 000

Chick peas

Cicer arietinum

1 070


2 000

Bambara or groundbeans

Vigna subterranea

3 128


3 000


Sesamum indicum



1 000

Green grams

Vigna aureus

1 216


2 000

Source: Guide to Agricultural Production In Malawi: 1994/95, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation

Production of soybeans, cowpeas and pigeon peas from 1996-2001


Production (tonnes)



Pigeon peas


32 771

15 533

72 850


30 170

25 582

79 507


40 811

25 838

91 569


48 699

22 196

99 261


37 401

25 973

105 849

Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation Department, 2001

Soybean meal is used most extensively as a source of protein, especially in poultry diets. In general, soybean meal accounts for more than 70 percent of the protein source used in compound feeds for poultry and other livestock. Use of other legumes such as beans, pigeon peas, groundnut meal and cowpeas is limited due to a number of factors such as:

Until recently, not much had been done on the chemical and feeding properties and utilization of these plant proteins by livestock in Malawi. The University of Malawi is currently embarking on the chemical analysis and characterization of national protein feed resources. Current studies show that proper processing is required before legumes such as soybeans, cowpeas and pigeon peas can be incorporated in animal diets. Simoongwe (1998) reported that roasting legumes can decrease the content of trypsin inhibitor (TI) in such crops as soybeans (Table 4).

Effect of roasting on trypsin inhibition of soybeans, pigeon peas and cowpeas

Protein type

Trypsin inhibition (%)



Soybean meal (full fat)






Pigeon peas



Source: Simoongwe, 1998

Although advocated for use in poultry diets for a long time, Phaseolus beans are rarely used in livestock feeds. Edje (1975) reported that Phaseolus beans contain 22 percent crude protein, 57 percent carbohydrates and a low fibre content of 4 percent. On the other hand, Mwangwela (2000) reported that the crude protein of Phaseolus beans ranged from 17 percent to 20 percent depending on variety used. The potential use of beans as a protein source in the animal feed industry needs to be explored. The TI content of beans could be improved by boiling or germinating the seeds. Kalimbira (2000) reported that boiling soybeans reduced trypsin inhibition from 30.2 percent to 3.5 percent. Germinating the seeds was also reported to reduce inhibition from 27.2 to 3.7 percent.


The compound feed industry in Malawi is small with both big and small scale feed millers. The animal feed industry produces concentrates for both on-farm feed mixing and complete feeds. Due to lack of data on chemical composition of available feed ingredients, the majority of feed compounders rely on composition tables for feed formulation. These tables are produced in other countries. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that most feed millers do not have laboratory facilities for analysis of the nutrient content of their ingredients.

Feed mills in Malawi are mainly used for grinding, dosing and mixing feeds from cereals and oil seed meals. Recently, the pelleted feed has been introduced in Malawi. The animal feed industry compounds more feed for monogastric animals (pigs and poultry) than for ruminants.

Protein sources used by the feed industry are either bought from within the country or imported from the neighbouring countries of Zimbabwe, Zambia or South Africa. The proportion of protein used in the diets varies according to the relative price of the available protein sources such as legumes, fish meal and milling by-products. Production of compound feed in Malawi has grown substantially and almost in parallel with an increase in intensive livestock production systems. This has seen an increase in the emergence of feed manufacturing companies. Most feed mills are concentrated in the urban areas of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu where these is a large number of pig and poultry enterprises.

Prices of feed from these manufacturing companies tend to vary depending on their source of ingredients and where they are located. Farmers in the countryside face significantly higher costs of feed than those within towns.

Due to the high cost of purchasing compounded feed, some farmers have resorted to on farm feed mixing. These farmers grow their own legumes as sources of feed, or import concentrates which they use for mixing with maize meal. This trend has seen an increase in the production of legumes such as soybeans.

The feed industry in Malawi is not without problems. Technical constraints include:

Lack of appropriate feed ingredients is aggravated by persistent incidences of drought or floods that have affected the country over the past three years. Where there is a limited availability of protein sources and other ingredients, quality is often compromised. Samples of broiler starter feed from one small scale feed manufacturer which was analyzed at the Animal Nutrition Laboratory at Bunda College had a crude protein content of 14.6 percent, which is too low for broiler starter diets. When contacted, lack of adequate protein sources was implicated. Under such circumstances, the farmer becomes the victim.

Quality Control

As mentioned above, most feed manufacturers lack laboratory facilities that can be used to check the quality of their feed. The Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) is mandated by the Government to ensure that standards are adhered to. Implementation of feed quality assurance leaves a lot to be desired. Lack of staff and insufficient financial support from Government have been implicated in MBS’s failure to monitor feed millers, operators, feed ingredient producers and suppliers. With no strict control measures, adulteration of animal feed, especially protein sources, becomes the norm.


Lack of research funds and reliable laboratory facilities limit the extent of research on protein sources in Malawi. Currently, the Animal Science Department of the University of Malawi is involved in the evaluation of grain legumes, such as pigeon peas and cowpeas, as potential substitutes for soybean. Simoongwe (1998) evaluated the use of soybeans, pigeon peas and cowpeas in the diets of local and exotic pigs. One major finding in that study was the need to process the legumes to remove TI. However, further studies are required to determine the inclusion levels that do not compromise performance, since rates of more than 70 percent proved to be too high. Chisowa (2002) reported that the daily weight gains of rabbits within a 12 week growing period were 15.6, 14.4 and 10.7 g for soybean, pigeon pea and cowpea supplemented diets respectively. Chisowa (2002) also reported that cowpeas contain more tannins (10.75 mg/kg) than soybean (3.25 mg/kg) and pigeon peas (3.75 mg/kg).


Expansion of intensive livestock production in Malawi has concomitantly resulted in an increase in demand for protein sources. The current protein resource base cannot meet the additional demand for protein by the animal feed industry, as manifested by protein imports. In order to ensure increased productivity of the livestock sector, the following recommendations are made:

1. Strengthening of animal nutrition research should focus on utilization and processing of unconventional protein feedstuffs. This will allow them to be properly evaluated as sources of protein and other nutrients for incorporation in livestock diets. Unconventional protein sources such as cowpeas, chickpeas, pigeon peas, common beans, bambara nuts, cotton seed cake and sesame seeds, should be explored.

2. A protein feed resource data base should be developed to provide a reference and textbook for the animal feed industry, researchers and students of animal nutrition/science and extension workers.

3. Government should promote cultivation and intensification of plant proteins such as soybeans to increase supply and availability of plant proteins for use by the animal feed industry.

4. Government and associated institutions should develop appropriate and cost effective feed processing technologies for both animal and plant protein sources, that can be used by both small and large scale feed compounders.

5. Investigations should be made to evaluate potential incorporation of animal waste as protein sources (such as that from the hatchery industry). Converting biological waste as animal feed would create a new industry and market, and would reduce pollution.

6. The Government should also seriously promote investment in oil crop refining companies. This could increase the availability of oilseed meals which are good protein sources.

7. There should be an increase in institutional capacity for human resource development in animal nutrition and feed technology, as well as support in terms of animal nutrition laboratory facilities for chemical analyses.


Chisowa, D. M. 2002. Comparative evaluation of performance of growing rabbits fed Leucaena leucocephala-cereal basal diet supplemented with legume grains. University of Malawi, Bunda College of Agriculture. (M.Sc. thesis)

Edje, O. T. 1975. Phaseolus Beans. Agriculture, Report No. BC/CP/95/75, University of Malawi, Bunda College of Agriculture.

Kalimbira, A. A. 2000.The effect of incorporating legumes on quality acceptability of cassava-based complementary foods. University of Malawi, Bunda College of Agriculture. (M.Sc. thesis)

Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MoAI). 1999. National Livestock Development Master Plan. Malawi, Department of Animal Health and Industry.

Mwangwela, A.M. 2000. Relation of phytic acid and calcium to culinary characteristics of freshly harvested dry beans. University of Malawi, Bunda College of Agriculture. (M.Sc. thesis)

Simoongwe, V. 1998. The performance of large white and local Malawian pigs fed rations based on soybeans, cowpeas and pigeon peas. University of Malawi, Bunda College of Agriculture. (M.Sc. thesis)

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