Fuelwood sellers ‘145 per cent likely to plant trees’

Women carrying firewood to sell
Women carrying firewood to sell in a local market Copyright: Natasha Elkington/CIFOR, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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  • In Malawi, 75 per cent of fuelwood are generated from forests
  • But fuelwood sellers are more likely than the general population to grow trees
  • Alternative sources of energy supply are needed to help sustain forests

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[BLANTYRE, MALAWI] Fuelwood sellers are 145 per cent more likely than the general population to adopt tree planting on their farms to increase fuelwood production and help sustain forests, says a study conducted in Malawi. 

According to researchers, forests contribute to about 75 per cent of the country’s fuelwood but illegal harvesting of trees in forest reserves mainly for charcoal production threatens deforestation.

“We were motivated by the severity of Malawi’s energy situation and a concern that non-sustainable efforts to address it could lead to more severe economic and environmental problems in the future,” says Gregory Toth, lead author of the study and a professor at the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida, United States.

“In terms of environmental benefits, the trees can rehabilitate degraded land, reduce erosion and sequester [store] carbon in the soil.”

Gregory Toth, University of Florida

Toth adds that planting trees on farmland or degraded land could increase access to fuelwood by women, and thus the time and labour spent in search of fuelwood can be reallocated to food production and childcare.

“In terms of environmental benefits, the trees can rehabilitate degraded land, reduce soil erosion and sequester [store] carbon in the soil. Even after tree harvest, the roots remain in the soil and perform all these functions,” Toth explains.

According to the study published in the June issue of Energy for Sustainable Development, researchers randomly sampled 501 households in 44 villages from July to August 2013 to assess the impact of a continuing programme that began in 2009 and targeted over 200,000 Malawian smallholders to promote tree planting and food security.

Researchers assessed the perceptions, knowledge and use of agroforestry — tree planting with crops — among those in southern and northern Malawi.

“The findings indicate that fuelwood sellers are 125 per cent and 43 per cent more likely to use agroforestry fuelwood technology than the general population in the North and South regions of the country, respectively,” says the study, adding that the technology involves producing fuelwood from trees purposively grown on individual private farms or on farms shared and co-managed by a group.   

Daud Kachamba, an associate professor and head of the Department of Forestry, Malawi’s Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, says that policymakers in Sub-Saharan Africa should care about sustaining forests because the findings highlight means of providing direct long-term benefits to people and protecting forests.

He tells SciDev.Net that Malawi also has an opportunity to tap into different sustainable energy sources such as solar, wind and bioenergy to reduce dependence on forest wood, adding that the country has enormous and sufficient feedstock for bioenergy such as agricultural waste from rice.

“The country still has some rivers that could be utilised for hydropower generation. Utilisation of these energy sources would require deliberate policy interventions from the government,” Kachamba adds.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.


Gregory G. Toth Malawi's energy needs and agroforestry: Impact of woodlots on fuelwood sales (Energy for Sustainable Development, June 2019)