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Charcoal burning in Malawi: solution not available

 The Big Issue Malawi 18 April 2019

Many people in Malawi cook their meals on it every day, but charcoal can be a threat to the environment, especially when burned illegaly. Government is struggling to come up with a solution. (531 Words) - By Robert Ngwira


BI Malawi_Charcoal burning solution not available

 Charcoal is burned and sold illegally in Malawi. Photo courtesy of The Big Issue Malawi

The government is not restricting charcoal burning but is trying to sensitize people on how to use this natural resources in a sustainable way, explains Mike Galeta, policy and law enforcement officer at the Ministry of Mines Natural Resources and Environment in Malawi.

"We are trying to reason with people on how to use the resources properly. Sustainable use can prevent some complications. We are already experiencing the consequences of climate change, with floods and erratic rains."

Galeta notes that selling charcoal is officially only allowed for those who have a license. But he admits that in reality many people are involved in charcoal burning, as well as illegal charcoal trafficking in order to earn a living.

"Many Malawians are living below the poverty line and as a result many people get involved in charcoal burning in order to earn a living. Many of them have less knowledge on the complications that may come as a result of this malpractice,'' he notes.

He observes that people are more tempted to get into charcoal burning because of the low prices of other agricultural products like cotton.

Blantyre-based Chrissie Nambiri who uses trees from Soche Mountain, says she is involved in charcoal burning in order to survive but says when given an alternative she would be willing to stop the trade which she says is not even very lucrative.

"Some of us do this in order to sustain our livelihood because we can not run other businesses. We will only stop this hazardous occupation if government gives us an alternative," she adds.

Environmental officer Galeta also notes that charcoal burning is increasing due to the fact that it is still being encouraged by buyers.

"The market is readily available, so people do not see any reason to stop it" he says.

Charcoal and firewood are major sources of energy for most Malawians, for whom alternatives such as electricity are beyond reach.

Another Blantyre resident, Angela Kampira, says that when given a choice she would rather use electricity which she says is safe and convenient.

"My landlord does not allow me to use electricity for cooking, so as a result I have no option but to use charcoal. It is not fair to accuse people like us of promoting charcoal burning. Many use charcoal just because they are staying in places where there is no electricity,'' argues Kampira.

Galeta notes that although efforts are being made to reduce the rate of deforestation, challenges do remain.

"Efforts to stop cutting of trees should involve every Malawian. We are interested in sustainable use but not entirely stopping it because we know that it would requires a multi-sectoral approach like finding alternative sources of energy and as well as alternatives for the charcoal burners", says Galeta.

As long as electricity and gas are not avaible to the majority of Malawians, cutting trees and burning charcoal will remain the only cheap way to prepare a meal.

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