While only 5% of Malawi’s rural population use charcoal, it is almost exclusively rural people that produce charcoal illegally from Malawi’s remaining forests to meet the high and growing urban demand.
While only 5% of Malawi’s rural population use charcoal, it is almost exclusively rural people that produce charcoal illegally from Malawi’s remaining forests to meet the high and growing urban demand.

In Malawi, a Sustainable Landscape Approach Defines a Path to Energy and Livelihood Security

By Ramzy Kanaan, Gina Althoff

To understand the state of Malawi’s forests, one must account for energy issues in the country. More than 96% of the 18 million people in Malawi use firewood or charcoal for household cooking and heating. Between 2011 and 2017, the total number of Malawians dependent on wood fuel increased by 2.5 million as a result of fixed hydroelectric power generation, limited grid coverage, and population growth. This large and growing demand for household energy is driving forest cover loss in Malawi, which, in turn, is undermining agricultural productivity and food security, water security and hydroelectric generating capacity. These trends leave Malawi especially vulnerable to climate shocks, such as droughts and floods, which have increased in both frequency and severity over the last 20 years.

To assist the Government of Malawi and its citizens to address these challenges, USAID/Malawi designed the Protecting Ecosystems and Restoring Forests in Malawi (PERFORM) project to promote forest conservation and landscape restoration, and ultimately contribute to the improved livelihoods of Malawians.

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In Malawi, women and girls typically collect firewood for household use. As forest resources decline, they are compelled to walk longer distances to find their energy source and this denies them of opportunities to spend more time with families and attend school.
In Malawi, women and girls typically collect firewood for household use. As forest resources decline, they are compelled to walk longer distances to find their energy source and this denies them of opportunities to spend more time with families and attend school.

Between 2016 and 2017, PERFORM supported the Government of Malawi to develop the National Charcoal Strategy (NCS), to address the linked problems of growing forest cover loss, and increased demand for household cooking fuel. The NCS recognizes that the inter-connected problems are complex and that no single solution exists. With this recognition, the NCS reflects a holistic, sustainable landscape approach to address the problems of energy supply and demand. Since the Government adopted the NCS, PERFORM has aligned its work to support implementation of the strategy, specifically through targeted research to support evidence-based decision-making, the testing of possible solutions, and the scaling-up of successful interventions.

Filling critical data gaps on firewood and charcoal supply and demand

PERFORM is working with the government to complete a thorough analysis of wood fuel supply and demand. This is the first such assessment in more than a decade, and the first ever geographically explicit analysis of wood fuel supply and demand in Malawi. the Department of Forestry and Department of Energy Affairs to communicate the results and implications to policymakers and wider audiences.

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More than half of Malawi’s 18 million people live below the poverty line, and approximately 25% of the population lives in extreme poverty. These high levels of poverty increase dependence on forest resources, which serve as “a bank” for households during period of food insecurity.
More than half of Malawi’s 18 million people live below the poverty line, and approximately 25% of the population lives in extreme poverty. These high levels of poverty increase dependence on forest resources, which serve as “a bank” for households during period of food insecurity.

Filling Critical Data Gaps on Firewood and Charcoal Supply and Demand

PERFORM is working with the government to complete a thorough analysis of wood fuel supply and demand. This is the first such assessment in more than a decade, and the first ever geographically explicit analysis of wood fuel supply and demand in Malawi. the Department of Forestry and Department of Energy Affairs to communicate the results and implications to policymakers and wider audiences.

Promoting the Development of Alternative Household Cooking Fuels

PERFORM has supported research to quantify the efficiencies and costs of different cooking fuels (firewood, charcoal, electricity and liquefied petroleum gas–LPG) and appliances (for firewood, using both the three-stone fire and the most prevalent improved cookstove, the Chitetezo Mbaula; and for charcoal, the Jiko charcoal stove and an improved EnviroFit charcoal stove). The results are being used to inform policymakers and to promote adoption of LPG and improved charcoal and firewood cookstoves. The Department of Energy Affairs is working with the Ministry of Finance to remove duties and other taxes from both alternative fuels and improved cooking appliances.

Increasing Efficiency in Firewood and Charcoal Consumption

Given the high reliance on firewood and charcoal, and the limited availability of alternatives, the NCS acknowledges that the most immediate option to slow forest cover loss is to increase adoption of fuel-efficient charcoal and firewood cookstoves.

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81% of Malawi’s population cooks with firewood. 93% of Malawi’s rural population relies on firewood. Fuel-efficient cookstove technologies (like the one in the photo) reduce the demand for rural firewood.
81% of Malawi’s population cooks with firewood. 93% of Malawi’s rural population relies on firewood. Fuel-efficient cookstove technologies (like the one in the photo) reduce the demand for rural firewood.

PERFORM has successfully piloted and scaled-up social marketing and behavior change communication approaches to increase adoption of improved firewood cookstoves. The campaign markets adoption of the stoves to men and women separately and communicates the most valued benefits of the technology in a way that the benefits outweigh the barriers to behavior change. This social marketing concept has been shared broadly with other National Cookstove Steering Committee members, who have also begun practicing this approach.

Promoting Legal, Sustainably Produced Charcoal

PERFORM supports Malawi’s sole licensed charcoal producer, Kawandama Hills Plantation. To produce charcoal sustainably, the company uses wood trimmed from its planted Corymbia citriodora trees to promote regeneration. The wood is trimmed to promote regeneration and to maximize output of the company’s primary product, essential oil. In 2017, the company’s charcoal operation generated a profit for the first time, demonstrating the potential for sustainably produced charcoal to compete with the illegal and unsustainably produced charcoal that saturates the market.

Trees for Our Children

PERFORM broadly supports efforts to increase the supply of wood fuel specifically for household energy use. This has been done at the plantation level through grants to commercial entities including the grant to Kawandama Hills Plantation, and at the community and household levels. PERFORM helps communities with the regeneration of natural forests, establishment of woodlots, and management of trees on farms. These interventions support the National Forest Landscape Strategy by improving Malawians’ access to firewood and fertile soils, which in turn improves farmers’ energy and livelihood security.

Chief Tawakali, whose village in Malawi’s Southern Region has seen an immense landscape change under PERFORM’s technical guidance attests, “PERFORM has shown us that the forest we thought we had lost was still alive underground. By caring for the roots and protecting our young trees, we have managed to regrow our forest. Our children will have the trees our parents had.”

While any of these efforts in isolation are insufficient to alter the current downward trajectory, the combination of data, knowledge and practical experience are beginning to have tangible impacts on Malawi’s landscape. The former minister of natural resources, energy and mining, Bright Msaka, said these interventions demonstrate real potential to achieve the NCS objectives to “arrest and reverse deforestation and forest degradation, and to reduce energy overdependence on solid biomass fuels.”

Keith Metzner, USAID/Malawi environment team leader agrees, saying “PERFORM works to increase Malawi’s wood fuel supply, decrease wood fuel demand, and to promote alternative energy solutions. In alignment with the USAID goal to assist countries in building resilience to recurrent climate shocks, PERFORM’s support of the National Charcoal Strategy is helping Malawi and USAID in their pursuit of a more food-, livelihood- and energy-secure future.”

Strategic Objective
Adaptation
Topics
Adaptation, Ecosystem-based Adaptation, Biodiversity, Forestry, Gender and Social Inclusion, Health, Land Use, Resilience, Rural, Sustainable Landscapes
Region
Africa

Ramzy Kanaan

Ramzy Kanaan is the Chief of Party for the USAID and UK aid co-funded Modern Cooking for Healthy Forests in Malawi (MCHF) project. He holds an M.A. in Geography and International Development from Clark University Graduate School, and a B.A in Biology from the University of Vermont. Ramzy has more than 20 years of experience designing, implementing and managing NRM projects in Africa.

Gina Althoff

Gina Althoff

Gina Althoff is a Communications and Outreach Specialist for the USAID-funded PERFORM project. Prior to working for PERFORM, Gina served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi and focused her service on environmental education and forestry projects. While serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer, Gina relied on firewood for her own household energy.

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