By Chimwemwe Njoloma
Lilongwe, Malawi has lost about 25, 000 hectares of forests annually through unsustainable extraction of wood and forest resources for wood energy, the Ministry of Forestry and Natural resources has revealed.
Minister responsible for the portfolio, Nancy Tembo revealed the sad development on Tuesday during her tour to Infinity Energy Solutions site in Traditional Authority M’bwatalika in Lilongwe.
At the site, Infinity Energy Solutions produces briquettes as a substitute for charcoal to preserve the environment.
Tembo, who was in company of Minister of Energy, Newton Kambala, said the country has seen enormous forest degradation and deforestation both on customary estate and forest reserves.
She said to have someone like Infinity Energy Solutions rise up to provide solution to the loss of forests is a good development.
“We are aware that the forestry sector is the highest contributor to the nation’s energy mix considering that over 90 per cent of Malawians use biomas energy in terms of charcoal and firewood to meet their energy needs every day,” she said.
Apparently, the use of charcoal and firewood contributes significantly to mass degradation and deforestation in the country.
“We appreciate efforts undertaken by Infinity Energy Solutions whose main objective is to reduce pressure on the dwindling forest resources,” she said.
Tembo said her ministry seeks to promote alternative cooking fuels and more efficient cook stoves to sustain trees and forests.
“My ministry appreciates that there are other underlying factors such as poverty, readily available markets for charcoal and lack of affordable alternatives to cooking energy sources,” she said.
All these underlying factors, she said, impact on efforts to achieve sustainable use of forest resources.
The minister, therefore, called on stakeholders to emulate what Infinity Energy Solutions is doing.
On his part, Minister of Energy, Newton Kambala described the tour as an eye-opener, saying he underrated what the company (Infinity Energy Solutions) was doing the time he heard about it.
“I am very much impressed with what the company is doing and how far they have gone.
“What we have seen today is a clear definition of what young entrepreneurs in Malawi can do to resolve some of the challenges we are having in the energy sector and assist in the protection of our environment,” Kambala said.
He said government needs to promote the product (briquettes) so that its market grows.
“Our population is now close to 20 million, and only 10 per cent access electricity. This means a lot of people are not connected to the grid, therefore, resort to forest resources for energy.
“This, therefore, calls for our commitment to ensure that we help grow the business (of briquette making) by creating some incentives so that they produce more briquettes to be used as a source of energy,” said Kambala, adding that the industry has potential to employ more people.
In an interview, Infinity Energy Solutions Managing Director, Malumbo Kalua said they saw the need for alternative sources of energy after noticing that 90 per cent of the population relies on firewood and charcoal for cooking.
“We saw an immense pressure on charcoal and forests so we decided to come up with solutions that ease deforestation. Our research led us to the production of briquettes,” said Kalua.
He said in 2019, the company applied for the Growth Accelerator Project. After being selected, the company accessed a capital injection that has helped them to acquire more equipment to increase the production of briquettes.
However, Kalua expressed the need for more sensitisation, saying briquettes are a new product and most people are not aware or used to them, hence the need for more awareness.
According to Kalua, Infinity Energy Solutions has partnered with filling stations in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu to supply briquettes to a number of consumers.
The company started in January, 2018 with a 0.3-ton production. It aims at producing 25 tonnes of briquettes per day.