Zambia - Striving to increase energy access in agriculture through sustainable bioenergy solutions


In the search for alternatives to fossil fuel-based energy, FAO has been supporting the Zambian Government in developing and integrating sustainable bioenergy in the agriculture sectors

The recently published report ‘Sustainable bioenergy potential in Zambia: An integrated bioenergy food security assessment’ documents findings to support policy work, helping the country to meet its climate change and renewable energy targets. It reveals how a successful renewable energy programme depends on fundamental factors, assessments, financial viability, the integration of the agriculture and forestry sectors, as well as the political will of the government.  

Renewable energy is on the rise across Africa, as several countries on the continent have already succeeded in taking necessary steps to scale-up renewables. The Government of the Republic of Zambia (GRZ) submitted its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the UNFCCC on 30th December 2020, highlighting renewable energy and energy efficiency as one of the three programmes through which the country is reducing its Greenhouse gas emissions.

The development of alternative sources of sustainable energy is however a complex topic due to the variety of technologies available. Technologies implemented without an in-depth understanding of the sociocultural context of the area often fail to engage with the ways in which local communities envision their own futures. 

It was for this reason that FAO welcomed the opportunity to work with the Government of the Republic of Zambia, in conducting a study on the feasibility and benefits of bioenergy from forest, crop and livestock residues.

Reliance on traditional biomass

Zambia is a large, landlocked African country, with more than half of its land under forest cover. Around three-quarters of the country’s population is employed in the agriculture sector. The 2018 Zambia Health and Demographic Survey reports that national electricity access in 2018 was 34%, while the electrification rate in urban areas was 69% and rural area access was 8%.

According to the 2019 World Bank Multi-Tier Framework Country Diagnostic Report, 83.4% of households in Zambia cook with biomass

The assessment was carried out using FAO’s Bioenergy and Food Security (BEFS) Approach – guidance and tools, specifically designed to analyse viable bioenergy options. The findings of the assessment form a basis for the development of renewable energy solutions in the country.  

Government support 

FAO collaborated closely with the Zambian Ministries of Energy, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Livestock throughout the assessment. It serves as an example to other countries, that Ministers too can become climate leaders, as Governments set themselves important targets under the Paris Climate Agreement. According to the Energy Minister, Mathew Nkhuwa, “the (bioenergy) project is timely as the Government is keen on diversifying the energy basket by migrating away from inefficient and unsustainable energy production and consumption.” 

According to Irini Maltsoglou, FAO Natural Resources Officer and the Lead Technical Officer for the FAO/GRZ bioenergy project; “carrying out this study in Zambia has been a valuable experience, and it is hoped that other countries will have the chance to carry out similar analyses. Prosperity is in sight for an Africa that embraces renewable energy technologies, but in-depth analysis is imperative to ensuring the effectiveness and sustainability of these systems.  The project team was able to assess bioenergy options and are now ready to start testing the findings.” Dr Maltsoglou also remarked on the valuable support of the Zambian government and its dedication to bringing energy to even the remotest parts of the country.

Without question, this report comes at an opportune moment, when renewable energy is being considered as a critical driver of Africa’s post-COVID-19 green recovery and economic prosperity. The point was also made by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutiérrez at the COP26 Roundtable on Clean Power Transition, under the theme ‘Achieving a rapid shift to green, affordable and resilient power systems.’

Next steps

The project team presented the assessment’s findings to project stakeholders, and proposed actions during a Results Presentation and End of Project workshop, in Zambia’s capital Lusaka. Having identified specific bioenergy supply chains for each energy end-use option, including off-grid electricity, and transport fuels, the project team highlighted the need to mobilize resources required to undertake demonstration projects to test the solutions identified and harness Zambia’s bioenergy potential.