In a country where only seven percent of about 16 million people have access to electricity, it is not surprising that Regina Kumalonje, a mother of two from Dambo Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Kuntaja in Blantyre, endures long distance to access energy for domestic use.
She wakes up at 4 am and walks a two-hour journey to fetch firewood at Michiru Forest Reserve, only to be chased by forestry guards.
“The only nearby source of firewood is Michiru Forest Reserve,” explains Kumalonje adding: “But it is highly guarded by forest guards. To source the foreword, you have to play tactics to beat the security system and this is not easy.”
Kumalonje’s situation is a mirror of what thousands of women nationwide bear to access firewood.
Since most of the forest land has been cleared, pressure is now on protected forest land. Reports indicate that Dzalanyama Forest Reserve, which is the major supplier of firewood to Lilongwe City, is under heavy pressure of encroachment. The story is the same in Mzuzu where residents walk long distances to source firewood in Kaning’ina and Chikangawa forests.
“The alternative is buying, but both firewood and charcoal are expensive. Sometimes, our alternatives are maize stalks, Chibuku beer packets, plastic bags and sacks, but they are not readily available,” she explains.
Kumalonje says on average she spends K500 (about $0.7) to buy firewood or charcoal per day. She admits that women’s struggle for domestic energy is compounded by deforestation that has cost the area most of its vegetation during the past decade.
The Malawi Rapid Assessment and Gap Analysis collaborates the Malawi’s domestic energy situation by stressing that the Malawi Energy Policy (2003) points out that approximately 93 percent of energy is extracted from biomass largely exploited in a non-sustainable manner.
Village Head Dambo is already panicking: “Looking at this area, one cannot fail to realise that we are living dangerously. Most trees have been cleared including fruit trees. I am afraid for the future. The environment will not meet the energy demand.”
Dambo appeals to government to make available cheaper and cleaner energy sources.
He says: “If authorities would flood the market with cheaper stoves operated by paraffin, it would help a lot. These should be sold at subsidised prices to ensure that rural people can have access.”
The Biomas Strategy (2009) reveals that the overall wood consumption surpasses sustainable supply by about 2.37 million cubic metres, which is an equivalent to 50 000 hectares of woodland that is cleared each year.
This is against the background that the Malawi Energy Policy estimates points out that 48 percent of the biomass used comes from sustainable supply, thus, 47 percent comes from natural woodland which is unsustainable while five percent emanates from wastes drawn from agriculture and industrial sectors. The report adds that the household accounts for 84 percent of total energy consumption.
In the thick of struggles for domestic energy, there seems to be no end in sight as Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining spokesperson responsible for energy issues, Joseph Kalowekamo, says government is rather concentrating on long-term solutions instead of combining with short term solutions.
“It is hoped that in the next five years, alternatives will be widely available in the country. But let me admit that, in general terms, the alternatives are not readily available,” he says.
Kalowekamo adds that the ministry is promoting the use of biomass briquettes, biogas and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as alternative sources of cooking and heating energy to charcoal and firewood.
“But considering that the country will still depend on biomass energy such as charcoal and firewood for the future, the government is also promoting sustainable charcoal production and use of clean and efficient firewood cook stoves,” he explains.
However, the ministry’s assessment reveals that traditional charcoal kilns are very inefficient, on average, uses seven tones of firewood to produce one tone of charcoal.
The Government, through the ministry has constructed pilot efficient charcoal kilns in Chikangawa, Neno and Mwanza where it is working with various stakeholders.
“In 2013, the government launched a national initiative on clean and efficient cook stoves. Under this initiative, a target has been set of ensuring that two million clean and efficient cook stoves are disseminated by the year 2020,” adds Kalowekamo.
Currently, with funding from UNDP, the government is implementing the Sustainable Energy Management (SEM) Project, which among other activities is constructing biogas plants in 14 districts across the country via simple technology, which uses basic and locally available materials. n