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13 Oct 2021

Rapid Situation and Needs Assessment of Informal Cross-border Traders at Mchinji Border in Malawi during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Informal cross-border trade is significant in Southern Africa, accounting for 30 to 40 per cent of the total trade in the Southern African Development Community, with an estimated value of USD 17.6 billion. Women make up approximately 70 per cent of informal cross-border traders (ICBTs), face gender-specific risks and are more susceptible to harassment, abuse and exploitation. The majority of female ICBTs are relatively poor with low levels of education, yet they support some of the most fragile and impoverished communities. Accordingly, any threat to informal cross-border trade poses a threat to the most vulnerable and least resilient. The outbreak of COVID-19 has led to significant challenges on the continuation of informal cross-border trade as a result of the measures put in place to contain the spread of the virus, including border closures and travel restrictions. These changes have had a catastrophic impact on the livelihoods of ICBTs, as they are unable to conduct their routine trade. COVID-19 restrictions have hit informal trade harder than other sectors, with women hit particularly hard by economic losses. A rapid needs and baseline assessment was undertaken in four countries – namely Malawi, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe – in order to understand the impact of COVID-19 on informal cross-border trade. This report provides the findings and recommendations from the assessment done in Malawi. The assessment was conducted within the framework of a project supported by the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

  • List of figures and tables 
  • List of abbreviations and acronyms
  • Executive summary 
  • 1. Introduction
    • 1.1. Project background 
    • 1.2. Objective of the study  
    • 1.3. Scope of the assessment  
  • 2. Methodology, assumptions and limitations 
    • 2.1. Assessment methodology  
    • 2.2. Assessment assumptions  
    • 2.3. Limitations of the assessment  
  • 3. Mchinji border 
    • 3.1. Description and location 
    • 3.2. Demographics and main economic activities at the border  
    • 3.3. Trade and migration at the border  
  • 4. COVID-19: Challenges and impact 
    • 4.1. COVID-19: National, regional and global trends  
    • 4.2. Incidence of COVID-19 and its management at the border  
    • 4.3. Impact of COVID-19 on informal cross-border traders at the border 
    • 4.4. National response to COVID-19: Health measures, lockdown and others  
    • 4.5. National economic recovery plan 
    • 4.6. National strategies and action plan for informal cross-border trade in relation to COVID-19  
    • 4.7. Informal cross-border traders’ viable alternative livelihoods in response to COVID-19  
  • 5. Gender and COVID-19 management in national responses, strategies and action plan
    • 5.1. Gender and COVID-19 management nationally 
    • 5.2. Gender and COVID-19 management at the border 
  • 6. Conclusion
  • 7. Recommendations 
    • 7.1. Interventions to support the needs of informal cross-border traders 
    • 7.2. Interventions to strengthen prevention, control and management at the border  
    • 7.3. Interventions to support the interventions by the Cross-Border Traders Association and Trade Information Desk Office 
    • 7.4. Interventions of national policy considerations in improving the plight of informal cross-border traders and fighting the spread of COVID-19 
  • References 
  • Annex: List of stakeholders consulted