A recent household survey showed that about 94% of the people in the country are using woodfuel for energy. This represents an increase trend in wood dependence from the original 90% population.
Both production and consumption of woodfuels occur in informal sector where records are not properly kept. Data on production and consumption is therefore based on surveys.
Fig 1 : Sources of fuelwood for biomass energy
Source : (Ministry of Energy and Mining)
Biomass provides most of the total energy needs. The majority of wood energy users are found in the rural areas where almost 90 % of the population live and biomass is the only energy source available. Over 50 % of the wood energy comes from customary forests and woodlands, 36 % from forest reserves, 15 % from plantations, 14 % from crop residues and 22 % from other sources of biomass.
It is estimated that 2/3 of the of total wood consumption represents rural demand for fuelwood for cooking and heating. The balance is composed of urban wood fuels for cooking and industrial requirements, building poles construction, tobacco and tea curing and building requirements and other miscellaneous uses.
Fig 2 : Wood consumption patterns
Various studies have shown that the national trend of fuelwood consumption over time is increasing. Over the period of 7 years (1983 - 1990), wood consumption increased from 8.5 million tons to about 12 million tons per year, an increase of about 41 % (source) Within the same period, wood demand for tobacco industry increased by about 29 % (source)
Considering all the major wood consumers, wood demand is about 8.5 million m3/year Sustainable wood supply is 5.2 million ha (Kainja, 1993). This calculation excludes National Parks and Game Reserves. The districts with the highest wood deficit are Mulanje, Thyolo, Blantyre, Mangochi, Machinga and Zomba in the South, Kasungu, Lilongwe and Dowa in the Centre. The Mozambican refugee influx also had an impact in all refugee-impacted districts of Nsanje, Chikwawa, Dedza, Mwanza and Ntcheu. Despite the national wood shortage, Nkhata Bay, Karonga and Chitipa in the North, have adequate supply of wood to meet their requirements (Gawamadzi, 2000)
5.1.1 Woodfuel supply-demand balance sheet
Malawi’s forests both natural and planted provide about 94 percent of the country’s fuelwood and poles for industrial and domestic uses. This is equivalent to 3.7 million m2 of wood against 14.5 million m2 currently demanded implying a wood deficit of 10.8million m2. The Central and Southern regions have the critical fuelwood and pole shortage than the Northern region.
Consumption of wood is positively related to population growth in less developed countries, where fuelwood is the major source of fuel. In urban and semi-urban areas, high tariff of electricity by ESCOM and price hike in electrical appliances is another contributing factor, as many people cannot afford to use electric power, hence there is lack of appropriate alternatives technologies to substitute firewood and charcoal. Only 2% of the population is now using electricity (NSO, 2000). The is a decline from 4% and corresponds to the increase in woodfuel dependence.
5.1.2 Prospects for narrowing the wood energy gap.
The fuelwood and poles deficit would go out of control if nothing is done to reverse the trend. Meanwhile, there are policies and legislations, which are in place or are being reviewed to address the wood plight and other environmental degradation in the country. These tools are, the Forestry Policy and Act, National Environmental Policy and Act, decentralization policy, Government policy on poverty alleviation, sustainable agriculture, macroeconomic adjustments and others. The latest addition and positive development to address the issue is Government adoption of National Forestry Programme (NFP) whose main aim is to operationally the National Forestry Policy. The major goal of the policy is to promote sustainable management of forest goods and services for improved and equitable livelihood.
There are also existing indigenous knowledge, technologies and plans in the rural and urban communities, which if fully exploited and utilized, can help to narrow down the gap. The government has also prepared a Cabinet Paper on measures to combat deforestation and desertification. In this Paper cabinet is requested to approve that management of natural resources be given the highest priority in allocation of recourses. Politicians are also invited to actively support management of natural resources.
On the regional and international scene there are international initiatives to address forest issues at policy level. The Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) / Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) is mandated to pursue a consensus and formulate options for further action in order to combat deforestation, and forest degradation and to promote the management and conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests. There is also a protocol on the Conservation, Sustainable Management and Sustainable Development of Forests and Forests Lands in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region, which aims at promoting forest resources and forest, lands sustainable management to meet social, economic, ecological and spiritual needs of present and future generations
5.1.3 Tree Planting initiatives
The role of raising and planting seedlings is in the hands of communities and private estates. Forestry Department and NGOs have a role of a facilitator. Before the implementation of the current policy, the Department did most of the forestry activities. Meanwhile, there are more than 20 NGOs involved in forestry extension particularly in community mobilization and training. As a result of complementary effort with the Department, rural communities have formed more than 4000 Village Natural Resources Management Committee (VNRMC) who are actively involved in management and development of community based forest resources. Considering that there are 25,000 villages in the country, there is still more work to be done to reach the whole country.