Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hope In Malawi

It's the day before I leave for Copenhagen. Day before yesterday, I was out shooting pictures in the early morning of Malawi's charcoal trade. Since then I have trying to get on top of the video edit, but I wanted to take time out to share a very encouraging project from Malawi.

Forest destruction is a problem throughout the region, but in a small developing country like Malawi, it is an environmental catastrophe. Malawi is one of the most deforested countries in the world, and the remaining forests and woodlands are being cut down at an alarming rate. Throughout the country timber cutting and slash and burn agriculture by local communities has been reducing former forests to marginal farmland. A year ago, thick Miombo woodland covered the area in this photo above, near Mangochi, but the relentless need for energy from communities, and a lack of other viable fuel options has seen it disappear into a field of maize.

But there may be some hope. Technology is coming to the Malawian countryside, and it’s something to sing about. On a recent Sunday in Manjanja village, a group has gotten together, to sing, to gossip, and to make Mbaula Chititezo stoves. Linda Chiwaya explains how using this technology has changed life in her village.

“This Mbaula stove helps, because when we go to the forest to collect a bundle of firewood we use it very slowly. Before, with the three stone fire, we used one bundle per week, or even for just a few days. But now with this stove, one bundle lasts for two or even three weeks”.

Hestian Innovations
, a plucky Irish company concerned about deforestation and looking for ways to get Africa involved in the carbon economy, appreciated the difficulty of Carbon Trading through forestry . They looked at the problem a different way, what if they could reduce forest destruction by using technology to reduce wood consumption, and in turn reduce CO2 emissions.

They have been partnering with local and international NGOs to distribute and monitor the use of these stoves, verifying that people are using them. They want to have at least sixty thousand of them working in the country by the middle of next year.

Tobacco is one of the main cash crops throughout Malawi. The most lucrative tobacco is cured in wood-fired kilns. The technology that Hestian Innovations is promoting reduces wood consumption in these kilns by about fifty percent. These are called rocket barns and in two years they have sold almost a thousand of them.

By selling stoves and barns through miro-loans on a massive scale, and using carbon financing to help fund part of the costs, they reduce carbon emissions and make their money through a long term monitoring system, which measures how much CO2 is not going into the atmosphere. This is important. This long-term monitoring is necessary for the certified carbon credits to be issued. It is a long-term commitment that is rare in Africa, even among aid agencies, and right now that commitment is coming from Carbon Trading.

By reducing wood consumption, reducing emissions, and in turn reducing the need to cut down forests, Hestian Innovations is a rare success story for Carbon Trading in Africa. Conor Fox from Hestian Innovations explains that they chose this route out of necessity:

“If we could get carbon credits, CERs, through the CDM system for reforesting with smallholder farmers, we would love to do it. But we know that it’s just too difficult, it’s just too complicated, so we are better off focusing on energy efficiency”.

This is the Mbaula Chititezo Stove. It's name means environmental protection.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Jeffrey,
    Thank you for reporting on this issue and for telling a compelling story. Let me know if you post your photos or a video as we'd love to link to it!

    We are eager to learn about similar projects around the world so we can promote them on our website, The Charcoal Project. (