Impoverished villagers are hacking down Malawi’s forests to make charcoal, undeterred by government efforts to confiscate the dirty fuel as a power deficit stokes demand.
Only 9 percent of the southern African country’s population have access to electricity, ensuring a good market for the charcoal produced by communities living near forests.
The fuel is sold mainly in urban and semi-urban areas where even those who do have a power connection cannot afford electricity for cooking.
Alex Thom, standing by his bags of charcoal on the roadside at Bale in Rumphi in northern Malawi, said he and others make charcoal by smouldering wood because it provides steady earnings.
“This is our major source of income. The cash crops we grow are seasonal, which means there are parts of the year when we have nothing to sell. But we can store the charcoal and sell it later,” he said.
Charcoal producers, including those around the vast Dzalanyama forest stretching between Dedza and the Malawian capital Lilongwe, say they are driven to the environmentally destructive trade by poverty.
“There is a need to economically empower the poor, especially those in areas bordering natural forests,” said Charles Kajoloweka, a consultant on forest issues.
Policies should encourage local people to co-manage the forests so they see the mutual benefits of protecting them, he added.
Kajoloweka described Malawi’s deforestation rate as “alarming”, and said the real situation was not reflected in out-of-date official figures.
The Department of Forestry told the Thomson Reuters Foundation researchers put the deforestation rate at between 1.6 percent and 2.8 percent of forest cover per year. It plans to commission a new estimate.–Reuters.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :