Domestic trade is concentrated in the larger towns, since transportation of goods to most rural areas is difficult and most rural residents have extremely low incomes. Agriculture is the basis of the economy, with about 90% of the population employed in subsistence farming. Local markets and stands for produce and baked goods prevail.
A small manufacturing sector is located near Blantyre, which is the country's major commercial center. There are a few larger supermarkets and grocery stores in Lilongwe, but with limited inventories. Karonga and Nsanje are the main trading ports. Zomba is a regional commercial center for agriculture. Licenses are required for all persons engaged in trading; fees vary with the nature of the business. In 2001, inflation was at about 28.6%. Per capita GDP was at about $660.
Business hours are 7:30 or 8 AM to noon and 1 or 1:30 PM to 4:30 or 5 PM , Monday through Friday, and 7:30 or 8 AM to noon or 12:30 PM on Saturday. Banks are open weekdays from 8 to 12:30 PM (to 11:30 AM on Wednesday and 10:30 AM on Saturday).