Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building (test)

Plant breeding programs in Malawi

Geographical situation of MalawiThe Republic of Malawi is a landlocked country in southeast Africa that was formerly known as Nyasaland. Agriculture is the most important sector in Malawi’s economy, and maize is the national staple, which is grown by virtually all smallholders. Other important crops are rice, cassava, sorghum and millet.

Agricultural research began in the 1900s under the colonial Department of Agriculture and later under the government of Malawi after independence in 1964. Today, there are about seven institutions that are involved in plant breeding work in the country. Plant breeding capacity in terms of qualified personnel has fallen steadily since 1985 and is rather low.

Plant breeding research is targeting traits that would mitigate most of the constraints that the agricultural industry is currently faced with. The traits include yield, disease resistance, long shelf life, consumer preferences, nutrient uptake, and drought tolerance, among others. Most released varieties have been of maize, because it is the staple food for the majority of Malawians but there has also been steady release of beans, roots, tubers, vegetables, fruits and cash crops including tea, tobacco, coffee, cotton and macadamia.

There are limited efforts to carry out sophisticated breeding experiments due to low human and infrastructure capacities. The major constraints of Malawi plant breeding activities are the lack of financial resources to carry out field and laboratory experiments and the inadequate number of breeders for each crop.

Research and education institutes with activities in plant breeding

Public Institutes

Department of Agricultural Research Services

Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS)
Website available in English

The DARS, under the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Food Security is Malawi’s principal agricultural research agency. It is responsible for crop and livestock research, with the exclusion of tobacco, tea and sugarcane. Plant breeding and biotechnology research are carried out at the three research stations of the DARS: Chitedze, Bvumbwe and Lunyangwa. Breeding programmes began in the 1950s and plant biotechnology began in the 1980s. An average of 38% of the total research budget is spent on plant breeding; the priority area being maize and root and tuber crops. Plant biotechnology is not being pursued because of lack of trained personnel.

Bunda College of Agriculture

Bunda College of Agriculture
Website available in English

Bunda College of Agriculture is one of the five constituent Colleges of the University of Malawi. It was established in 1967 as a multi-disciplinary University College to produce middle-level personnel for the agricultural industry. By its activities of training and research, this college aims to improve food production, food security and nutrition of the people. Its breeding programme focuses on beans.

Private Institutes


Agricultural Research and Extension Trust (ARET)
No Website available

ARET is a private research institute which was created from the Malawi Tobacco Research Authority (MTRA) when DAR relinquished its responsibility over tobacco research. ARET owns land for field trials, glass houses, and basic breeding equipment. Its target is for multiple resistance of tobacco to alternaria, wild fire, Fusarium wilt, bacteria wilt, nematodes.


Tea Research Foundation (TRF) of Centrel Africa
No Website available

TRF is a private research institute mainly founded by the tea association of Malawi and Zimbabwe. It conducts research in Malawi, Zambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Apart from tea, it also includes coffee and other plantation tree crops in its portfolio. The breeding programme deals with yield, rooting ability and drought tolerance.


Information by J.D. Ambali and Wezi Msowoya (2004) - Information based on the Malawi's full report from the PBBC survey.
Last revised 09-03-2010, GIPB