Last year, Parliament removed value-added tax on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to reduce the selling price and motivate potential users to stop cooking using firewood and charcoal.
LPG has not been widely used in Malawi unlike other countries within the region.
According to the 2018 census, a meagre three percent of the Malawian population uses gas for heating.
The majority—over 90 percent of Malawians—use charcoal and firewood, which are wiping out forests faster than we are planting trees.
The removal of the 16.5 percent VAT on the counter price regulated by Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) is one of factors likely to stimulate demand for LPG in the country.
Having spent over a decade in the gas industry, I have learnt that cost and safety concerns as well as low awareness are the major stumbling blocks to the adoption of LPG as a source of heating energy.
The initial cost of gas accessories, gas and refill remains unaffordable to most Malawians, pushing them to exert pressure on electricity which is erratic and fuel wood which is environmentally not sustainable.
Besides, safety concerns are rampant in both urban and rural areas regardless of whether one is educated or illiterate. There is a public fear that gas explodes and may torch their property.
In terms of awareness, a huge segment of the population does not know the existence of LPG as a heating and lighting solution.
This sums up why Malawi has the lowest uptake of LPG, inflicting a huge burden on rapidly depleting natural forests.
Although electricity can be used for heating or cooking in urban areas, the census shows that only 75 267 out of 3 984981 households cook using electricity.
This number is negligible when compared to 724 864 that use charcoal and 3 083 678 that use firewood.
The figures show how far the country has fallen behind in the push to find a lasting solution to depletion of its forest cover and we must anticipate the worst deforestation rates in the few more years to come.
For the past two years, Mera and Department of Energy Affairs have embarked on a sensitisation initiative to woo the masses to embrace LPG as their priority heating solution.
I wish the campaign was ongoing to allay fears and myths the majority harbours against the use of ‘gas’.
I believe the campaign reached many people as a considerable number of new users phoned in or came at my workplace to inquire about the use of gas stoves.
Of course, the demand coincided with intermittent power supply across the country.
I strongly believe that the removal of VAT has come at the right time to benefit many who find the cost of LGP exorbitant.
The tax removed may not be big, but you do not often hear about price reductions nowadays.
I urge the government to consider removing taxes on importation of LPG stoves, cookers and other accessories to make them affordable for all.
LPG, as is the case in many countries globally, is the only reliable and sustainable domestic heating solution that should unequivocally be adopted here in Malawi.
Confiscating charcoal and firewood in transit or deploying Malawi Defense Force to guard endangered forests will just leave us trapped in a vicious circle if we leave the consumer market without sustainable and affordable alternatives.