Propagating clean energy concept

Mary Liwonde, 52, from Kandoje Village in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Symon in Neno, is worried about continued deforestation in the district mainly due to charcoal burning and firewood businesses.

She says the district is experiencing intermittent rainfall year in year out as well as depletion of other natural resources such as land, leading to soil erosion and poor harvests. She wishes a permanent solution to this problem was found.

Charcoal for sale along the M1 Road

“We are told to conserve trees, but we need firewood and charcoal as our daily source of fuel.  We try to replace the trees, but it is becoming difficult due high demand for the fossil fuels, poor soil and unfavourable weather conditions resulting from the deforestation,” said Liwonde.

Her wish is to have her house connected to electricity and for Malawi to have policies that would enable the rural poor embrace clean energy in their daily activities.

According to the 2018 Population and Housing Census report released in May this year, only 11.4 percent of Malawians are connected to electricity while 6.6 percent use solar. The majority of households use firewood for cooking (77.4 percent) followed by charcoal (18 percent) and electricity (2 percent).

In 2018, the government formulated the National Energy Policy which aims at addressing the challenges facing the energy sector while managing the environment and climate change.

Further to this, government has on a number of occasions promised to promote the introduction and adoption of affordable, safe and reliable alternative fuels for cooking and heating.

It added that diversifying fuel sources is the most effective way to decrease charcoal and firewood consumption in the long term and is especially important in light of the decreasing supply and increasing costs of charcoal and firewood.

However, people such as Liwonde are yet to see the implementation of these plans and promises.

Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining principal energy officer Conwell Chisale hints that for Malawi to deal with effects of climate change, which is largely caused by depletion of natural resources such as trees, there is need to take issues of clean energy as one of the priority areas.

He says it is sad to note that much as communities are being sensitised to the negative impacts of over dependence on biomas or fossil fuels, not much is being done to ensure that a greater population has access to electricity and electrical appliances that may enable them to use electricity as a source of fuel instead of firewood and charcoal.

While commending government for removing tax on gas, Chisale said there is need to sensitise the public to advantages of using gas as well as making it easily accessible to the rural masses that form a greater part of the country’s population.

“Even those that have electricity in their homes think using electricity as a source of fuel is expensive; hence, their dependence on charcoal and firewood for domestic fuels. In addition, many people think gas is dangerous to use for cooking. There is need to change the mindset,” he said.

The National Charcoal Strategy (NCS) of 2017-2027, which analyses the complex nature and gravity of the charcoal problem, emphasises on the need for government to work with partners to develop and disseminate information and raise awareness to transform the behaviours of users and other key stakeholders needed to sustain activities.

On the other hand, Civil Society Network on Climate Change (Cisonecc) national coordinator Julius Ng’oma thinks conversations between community leaders and governments regarding Malawi’s transition from energy sources that are depleting natural resources and causing harm to the environment and the need to start investing in energy sources that will help self-guard the country’s future is the best option.

“The agriculture sector is not well-developed in districts such as Neno. The district experiences a lot of dry spells and communities have taken it upon themselves to find alternative sources of income for survival and charcoal business seems to be the thriving one.

“However, they need to realise that there are a lot of negative impacts which will not only haunt them but generations to come,” he said.

The district’s assistant forestry officer Aubrey Macheso said his office is working with community leaders, particularly in nurturing the few remaining natural trees.

 “We are working with chiefs and together we formulated by-laws aimed at depleting our natural resources; however, there is need for collective effort to achieve this,” he said.

According to Macheso, Neno and Mwanza remain the major charcoal supplier for the commercial city of Blantyre.

He concurred with Ng’oma that a lot needs to be done to ensure affordability of clean energy sources to ordinary Malawians.

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