Patricia Banda had planned to buy an improved charcoal cookstove after hearing about it on the radio. But after she attended a USAID-sponsored cleaner cooking demonstration at the Shoprite grocery store in Mzuzu, she came home with much more than a cookstove.
She learned the Government of Malawi has licensed a new type of charcoal that is produced on tree plantations, a strategy to fight deforestation as a result of the illegal charcoal trade.
Not only does this sustainable charcoal source help to protect the nation’s forests, it’s also poised to change the business of charcoal, and is rapidly expanding its reach in Malawi’s cities.
“I had no idea that this charcoal existed, and I really want to test it,” she said, as she watched an employee from Kawandama Hills Plantation demonstrate how to light the charcoal in a cookstove.
In Malawi, less than 2% of the population cooks with electric and gas stoves. Instead, wood fuels — charcoal and firewood — are the primary source of cooking energy for the vast majority.
In cities, three out of four urban households rely on charcoal for cooking fuel. This paradigm, triggered by the lack of reliable energy sources and widespread poverty, has resulted in a steady increase in deforestation, exacerbating food security, health, and economic challenges.