Quality Infrastructure in a Least Developed Country – The Case of Malawi

Our Post-Doctoral researcher Axel Mangelsdorf from the Chair of Innovation Economics and Federal Institute of Materials Research and Testing spent the last three weeks in Sub-Sahara Africa to analyze the National Quality Infrastructure of Malawi. Here is his report.

Axel Mangelsdorf in front of Malawi Bureau of Standards

Malawi is one of the poor countries in Sub-Sahara Africa. As a Least Developed Country (LDC) Malawi ranks 160th out of 182 countries in the Human Development Index. More than 70 percent of the population lives with less than US$ 1.25 a day and about 90 percent with less than US$ 2 per day.  The economy in Malawi is largely depending on rain-fed subsistence agriculture. The country is a very densely populated. The average land size is only about 0.8 hectares. The industry is hardly developed manufacturing industry is limited to basic household items such as shoes and clothing.

The majority of exports (more than 90 percent) are from the agriculture sector. Most products for daily use are imported from other countries. Malawi has a negative trade balance which puts pressure on the ability of foreign exchange in the country. The Government of Malawi wants to transform the economy from an importing and consuming country into a producing and exporting country. Therefore, the Government of Malawi has requested the World Bank to undertake a Diagnostic Trade Integration Study (DTIS) and one part of the study was to analyze the National Quality Infrastructure (NQI) in Malawi.

The NQI concerns the system of standardization, conformity assessment accreditation and metrology. The proper function of the NQI is crucial for developing countries, especially for exporting companies. For instance, non-accreditation plays a major role for companies disadvantage in export markets. Laboratories in Malawi are not accredited according to international recognized standards and for that reason trading partners do not accept test results and certifications issued from the local Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) – the national standard body and main institution for issuing and technical regulations and national metrology institute. As a consequence, exporting companies have to deal with cost for double-testing.

For instance, companies producing groundnuts – a major exporting good for Malawi – need to send groundnut samples to Kenya or South Africa and have to bear the extra costs for the courier services. Moreover, companies in developed countries often demand their suppliers in developing countries to become certified with International Quality Management Standards such as ISO 9001. In order to become certified with ISO 9001, auditors from accredited certification bodies have to visit the companies. The audits confirm that the firm conforms to all requirements which are laid down in the standard. However, the non-accreditation of MBS is a barrier for certification. Again, companies have to deal with extra costs – such as traveling and hotel expenses. Auditors from accredited certification bodies – for instance, Africert of TÜV Rheinland – have to travel to Malawi from the home countries in order to conduct the audits. Another example is calibration of weight scales. Scales are instruments for measuring the weight of a product and regular calibration is needed to verify correct the correctness of the measurement.  Weighing scales are used in thousands of markets throughout Malawi. A lot of traders manipulate weighing scales or use un-calibrated scales and consumers -especially poor- people suffer from manipulated weighing scales because it functions like an additional tax on the purchased item. The metrology department of the MBS is responsible for calibration services. During regular visits of markets the MBS staff checks weighing scales and confiscates manipulated scales. However, the department has less than twenty members – way too few for the whole country of about 13 million inhabitants.

A manipulated weighing scaleA manipulated scale

What can be done to deal with this situation? The answer is to bring the National Quality Infrastructure in better shape. Currently, investment plans from the Government of Malawi and international donors aim to upgrade the NQI. For example, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) together with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) invest 3.8 million Euros for a project to enhance the capabilities of the (MBS). One of the objectives of the project is to accredit the product certification section of MBS to avoid double testing for Malawian companies. The project is supported by the Government of Malawi which invests in buildings for laboratories. For calibration services, a bilateral aid program is currently in the development phase. One of the objectives for the calibration of scales is to invest in a mobile calibration vehicle.



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