Fuelling Environmental Conservation: Saving trees in Mbando community

By Stewart Paul, Abundance

In a country with very low access to electricity at 11 % (World Bank, 2020), Malawi is bound to a heavy reliance on biomass as fuel for cooking meals, both at small/household to medium/commercial scale. Between March 2020 and February 2021, I participated in a study on “Sustainable Clean Cooking Facilities to boost resilience to climate change in Malawi”. Funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Justice Innovation Fund (CJIF), the project aimed to help address deforestation in southern Malawi (Machinga) through delivering a sustainable biofuel production using organic waste as fuel for clean and efficient cooking. Designed in Glasgow and built by FabEngineering in Blantyre, the technology might just be a long term solution towards curbing heavy reliance on charcoal and fuelwood for food preparation, especially at a medium scale.

Abundance’s Grace Moyo (left) and Ruth Mumba (Centre) meeting with FabEngineering’s Andrew Khonje (right)

From attending bi-weekly management meetings to leading data analysis of the 2 surveys conducted in Machinga district between September 2020 and January 2021 I would consider myself as having closely worked with the rest of the partners as well as Abundance team on this project. The first survey was on waste collectors analysing the waste collection process, preparation of food, collection of fuel for cooking and knowledge of the environmental impact of burning fuels for cooking. The major findings were that maize stalks are the most common waste type found in Mbando community and that the majority of the stalks are collected at a fee. Also, it is mainly women who prepare food and the preparation process takes around one hour. Whereas mixed views characterised our enquiry on the importance of knowing the fuel type being used, the majority of the survey respondents showed wide knowledge on the environmental impacts of burning fuels, which largely border on the destruction of the physical environment. By successfully designing, delivering and piloting a cooking technological innovation that does not use fuelwood, I am compelled to conclude that the project was a success and it delivered on its aim and objectives.

Soy-corn blend porridge prepared using one of the cookers during piloting

My contribution towards the overall success of the project was mainly attributed to the cordial working relationship with all the partners: LUANAR, FAB Engineering, LEAD and the University of Glasgow. I hope the outcomes and outputs from this project will be used for further research and development of the technology and thereby substantially contribute towards our common drive and urgency to reduce people’s reliance on the “lungs of the land” for food preparation. By training community members on how to use the tested technologies, the project ensured that the community continues to benefit and conserve the environment through its sustainable use.  Stakeholder engagements conducted towards the close of the project saw heightened participation and raised interest from crucial players in the area of energy such as the University of Malawi (Chancellor College and the Polytechnic) and the Scotland-Malawi partnership. Furthermore, the presentation of the project at the Machinga District Executive Committee (DEC) meeting was one of the key milestones as it ensures that the project is not only recognised but appreciated and appraised at the local government level.

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