Malawi’s implementation of a large-scale agricultural input subsidy programme has attracted significant international interest. This paper reviews the programme from 2005/06 to 2008/09. Nationwide disbursement of heavily subsidized fertilizers and seed to large numbers of beneficiaries represents a significant logistical achievement and substantially increased national maize production and productivity, contributing to increased food availability, higher real wages, wider economic growth and poverty reduction. However, the latter years of the programme have been accompanied by high international fertilizer prices and costs and high maize prices, the latter undermining the programme’s food security, poverty reduction and growth benefits for many poor Malawian farmers relying on purchased maize for substantial amounts of their staple food requirements. Estimated economic returns to the programme have been satisfactory, given other programme benefits not captured in cost—benefit analysis. With substantial reductions in both prices and subsidized volumes of fertilizers in subsequent years, there is considerable scope for building on achievements to raise programme effectiveness, efficiency and benefits. Any application of Malawi’s subsidy experience to other countries should take into account the special characteristics of the Malawian maize economy and measures needed to raise programmes’ effectiveness and efficiency and their contribution to sustainable development policies.