Mobility Constraints in Malawi 


“The struggles of poverty can be greatly reduced by improving mobility. Conversely, poor mobility  further perpetuates  the cycle  of poverty”.

To fully gauge the impact a bicycle can bring to a household in Malawi is incredibly difficult. Mobility allows all of us to access the very things we need to survive, and can shape our quality of life.

In Malawi approximately 11.2 million people — over 80% of the population — live in rural areas and need to access urban centers for many basic needs and services. More than 45% of these rural households claim to use a bicycle as their primary mode of transportation, compared to 1% with a motorized vehicle. The remainder of the rural population travel by foot.  The bicycles that are currently available to Malawians were generally built using old technology, are poorly designed, break down easily, and do not meet the diverse needs of their users.  There is a clear demand and need to improve the quality, affordability and accessibility of bicycles in Malawi.

Our goal is to provide basic access to mobility for rural Malawians.  By increasing the capacity of local bicycle dealers to access quality bikes, we are helping create a steady supply, while also creating jobs and expanding community partnerships.  Bicycles can bring incredible change to the mobility of  people in Malawi


Mobility in Malawi: Key Facts

  • 80% or 11.2 million people live in rural areas of Malawi.
  • 45% of rural dwellers have a bicycle in their household.
  • 1% of rural households have a motorized vehicle.
  • 75% of rural households live more than 10 km. from markets or trading centers.
  • Over 80% of Health Surveillance Assistants (Ministry of Health employees delivering rural            health care) rely on a bicycle to effectively do their job.

Our Response: Better Quality and Affordable Bicycles


Africycle is responding to the mobility needs of commuters in Zomba, Malawi, a District of 600,000 people. By overcoming supply chain restraints,  we are helping build the capacity of local bicycle dealers to integrate a  better quality, affordable bicycle, improving the mobility of households and helping them access their basic needs of life.  Our project will ensure that Malawians can access a bicycle that will be a valuable investment to them, and build the infrastructure needed to sustain these better products. The bicycles will not only help the users, but build businesses and see profits invested back into their community.


About Malawi


Located in southeast Africa, the Republic of Malawi is a landlocked country bordered by Mozambique to the east, south, and southwest, Zambia to the west, and Tanzania to the north. Lake Malawi, the 10th largest lake in the world, occupies the majority of the country’s eastern border. The north-south Great Rift Valley, which runs through the center of the country, is flanked by mountain ranges and high, narrow, elongated plateaus. In the higher elevations, Malawi is cooler than many other African countries, but the lowlands are hot, humid, and tropical. Natural resources include limestone, hydropower, uranium, coal, and bauxite.


Malawi a former British protectorate(from 1891), became a self-governed nation on July 6, 1964. One-party rule under the presidency of Dr. Hastings Banda lasted for 30 years, but in 1994 the Malawian people voted for a new form of government. As a result, the country held their first free democratic multiparty elections that year, voting in Bakili Mazuli as president. A decade later, current president and economist Bingu wa Mutharika took office amid pressure to alleviate the country’s deteriorating economy.


Eighty-two percent of Malawians live in rural areas and are engaged in farming. Agriculture products include corn, sugarcane, cotton, tea, vegetables, nuts, cattle, and goats. Despite a recent surplus of maize, severe food insecurity in Malawi has afflicted approximately 4 million people—more than a million of whom are children under age five or pregnant women. The chronic food crisis is a major cause of malnutrition and has increased the risk of diseases.


Drought, fluctuating trade expenses, high transport costs, few skilled laborers, and a deteriorating transportation infrastructure are the primary reasons that this largely agriculture-dependent economy is struggling. Malawi is ranked in the bottom eight percent of the world’s least developed countries on the human development index. Nearly 53 percent of people live below the poverty threshold, the inflation rate is 28 percent, and more than three-quarters of the population live on less than $2 per day. Nearly 75 percent of secondary school-age children are either working or staying home to care for their families instead of receiving valuable education.


Despite attempts at economic reform, the government continues to face challenges due to a rapidly growing population and the increasing number of HIV and AIDS cases. The HIV prevalence rate is 14 percent; nearly 1 million people in the country are living with the disease. More than 550,000 children have lost one of both of their parents to HIV and AIDS. In addition, the threat of cholera remains high in Malawi due to outbreaks during the rainy season (November to April); this becomes a huge risk in flood situations because of the possible breakdown of water and sanitation capabilities.


What is it like living there?


Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. High population density, and access to basic needs of life such as cooking fuel, food and water make survival a daily struggle. These issues lead to further degradation of the environment and natural resources. Malawi has a diverse environment and with many rural and isolated areas that are difficult to access. Poor roadways and trail networks greatly  limit access by vehicles to rural areas. Almost 80% of rural areas receive health care and services delivered by bicycles or by foot.

Transportation is luxury we take for granted in Canada, however, it provides the much needed mobility our society needs to flourish. Measuring this impact is extremely hard to do, however when you consider that over 60% of the population own a vehicle, there is clearly a demand for such mobility. In the same way, mobility impacts the livelihoods of families across Malawi. There are many factors to consider when trying to grasp the impact a bicycle can bring, however one underlying conclusion, they change lives.


To better understand what it is like to live there, consider these comparisons

Population 14.2 Million 33.2 Million
Economic output ppp(GDP) $ 800 USD $38,000 USD
Living with HIV AIDS 11% 0.3%
Life Expectancy 47 years 81 years
Adult literacy 86% 99%
Child mortality rate(per 1000) 92 5
# of doctors 252 69,699



*Malawi household and demographic survey 2010

* PubMed Central-African Health Science Journal



Africycle in Malawi


Africycle has been working in Malawi since 2005, refurbishing and selling second hand bicycles. Africycle Malawi has established a positive reputation for providing high quality, durable bicycles. Africycle has held charitable status in Canada for 5 years and became a registered Malawian Trust in 2010. Africycle has developed proven staff and systems to implement and carry out programs. Having demonstrated a clear demand for a better bicycle in Malawi, the major challenge is establishing a consistent flow of bicycles in order to continue with our mission of providing access to better quality and affordable bicycles. Africycle has provided bicycles to over 400 Health care workers, and has worked to train over 600 Health Surveillance workers for the Ministry of Health in Malawi. Africycle has trained and developed staff to operate and manage an independent bicycle shop. Providing valuable skills tools and support that has resulted in a successful partnership and demonstrated the a successful integration of programming.