the government and environmental NGOs have joined in an effort to reduce
dependency on charcoal for cooking and heating. They're looking for other forms
of energy because the charcoal trade has left most of the country's woodlands
bare. But most Malawians find it difficult to switch. Voice of America English to Africa reporter Lameck Masina in Blantyre
says statistics indicate that almost all Malawians depend on charcoal for cooking. Other conventional sources of fuel such as
gas, solar and paraffin are rare and expensive.
is a housewife in the commercial capital, Blantyre. She says, "I use charcoal because electricity is very expensive
for cooking or heating. Moreover, charcoal is also sold in smallest
[quantities] at affordable prices for most of ordinary Malawians. I cannot stop
using it, I cannot stop."
stoves are also cheaper than electrical appliances like cookers and heaters. A
brand new hotplate costs around US$30, while a locally made charcoal stove now
costs around US$2 and needs no sophisticated maintenance.
A sizable bag of charcoal in urban areas cost about US$7.
Sumani says for an average family of seven, like her own, it may last a week.
But those who use electricity may pay twice as much for their cooking and
has shown that 140,000 tons of charcoal are produced every year in Malawi.
Environmentalists say this is the main reason for the loss of about 50,000
hectares of indigenous forest every year – the highest deforestation rate in
the region of the Southern African Development Community.
charcoal trade is illegal in Malawi. Police at roadblocks have been
confiscating it but have not stopped the trade.
produces the fuel in the southern district of Mwanza, one of the areas ravaged
by deforestation mostly due to charcoal production:
been burning charcoal for 20 years. This is where my
bread and butter come from; this is where I get money to pay school fees for my
children. Although I know that it is not legal, there is no way I
can stop without government giving me an alternative business."
Mauambeta is the executive director of Wildlife and Environmental Society of
Malawi, an independent NGO that fights environmental degradation. He says
efforts are underway to divert communities producing charcoal to other
"For example, some communities are keeping the bees
which are producing the honey (which) they sell. Others are keeping the guinea
fowl, which they also sell, while other communities are producing baobab fruit
juices, aiming at increasing income at their household level."
says his organization is running a program that encourages communities to plant
trees they can use for firewood.
report released in December 2007 entitled "Charcoal Consumption, Trade and
Production in Malawi," recommends the regulation of the charcoal industry as
opposed to criminalization.
The author, economist Patrick Kambewa, told the UN
humanitarian news agency, IRIN, that criminalizing the industry means arresting
thousands of people involved in one of the few industries that benefit the
He says the scale of charcoal production, if
regulated, could make it one of the country's top earners after tobacco and
tea, and would also encourage the sustainable use of wooded areas.
The report estimates that the industry employs about
93,000 people as producers, transporters and roadside or urban vendors.
Mauambeta says negotiations are in place with government on regulating the
trade. He favors a system that would legally allow communities to manage
forests and provide licenses to communities to produce charcoal. By limiting
the number of licenses issued and restricting the amount of charcoal allowed
under each one, the state could control the amount of forest loss:
engaging the government to develop systems that would allow the communities to
own forests at the same time to get a license from the Department of Forestry.
Then, they can start manufacturing charcoal and pay taxes to the government
from the business."
is the minister of energy and mining. He says the government has begun a six-year
program known as Improving Forest Management for Sustainable Livelihood. He says the
program, run jointly by the European Union and the Malawi government aims to
improve the livelihood of communities through the sustainable and collaborative
management of forests.
the program also encourages the communities to use wind power and solar energy. But skeptics doubt the effort will succeed,
given the huge financial profits that traders gain from charcoal sales.
say he makes about US$200 per month from selling charcoal – good money for a
villager and above the average pay for many workers. That includes journalists,
who may only earn around US$70 a month.