This year’s Economics Association of Malawi (Ecama) annual conference currently underway in Mangochi zeroes in at population growth -challenges and opportunities in relation to the country’s economic development.
According to Ecama there’s a big mismatch between the country’s productivity in relation to the booming population. This is evident with the 2018 population census which indicates that the country’s population stands at over 17 million people which represents a 35% growth from 2008 findings.
Various speakers at the conference attribute the upswing in population growth to a number of factors such as low uptake of reproductive health services and inability of the girl child to stay longer in school.
On overall it has been echoed that if not put to check the population is set to double by 2042.
It has also been observed that half of the population is below the age of 18. This reality has a bearing on the economy.
Another school of thought looks at the population growth as a competitive advantage in terms of the labour market.
A cross section of participants to the conference
In his speech executive director for Ecama, Thula Maleka said economists believe that population growth and economic growth are closely interlinked.
“Malawi’s estimated GDP is at K5.1 trillion (US$7 billion), this is about 0.3 percent to total GDP for Africa and in terms of population, at 17.6 million, Malawi population is equivalent to 1.5 percent of Africa’s population of about 1.2 billion people. This clearly shows that Malawi’s population is growing faster than its economy.
“The picture looks worse, if we compare Malawi with neighbouring Zambia which is (752,618 km²) and is over 6 times the land size of Malawi, but Zambia’s population is lower than Malawi but with a GDP of K17.5 trillion (US$ 24 billion). The question we need to answer is: Why is our population so high but we are producing so little, and then how can we use this high population as impetus for growth?” wondered Maleka.
On her part Young Hong, Resident Representative of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Malawi said rapid population growth driven by unskilled and uneducated population puts enormous pressure on the resource basket.
She said: “This is 2019 not in the 70s. As such there’s need to curb the effects of population growth through diversifying the economy of Malawi, matching quality of education & skills training and the domestic & international labor market needs. Modernization of rural areas is also a very important aspect and increasing access to digital devices & technology for young people amidst a pool of interventions that would change the narrative.”
The conference has drawn both local and international economists
Also speaking during the conference was Farayi Gwenhamo, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Resident representative for Malawi. She said the country has a lot to do to move from its present scenario. She said education is a central component that will enhance the aspirations of the nation.
“Education is an important aspect and it plays a key role in structural issues. You see if a girl child stays long in school definitely that is already giving her more opportunities ahead and in that way we will be dealing with poverty from the grassroot levels.”
The two day conference has pooled together local and international economists and at the end, a position paper will be developed and shared with relevant policy makers.