Malawi is the only African country to fully integrate biofuels into its energy system. Malawi has produced sugarcane ethanol and blended it at proportions of 10-25% with gasoline since the 1980s, in response to the 1970s energy crises and the higher costs of importing refined oil products in their landlocked country. Since the 1990s, there have been major efforts to integrate smallholders in the sugarcane value chain to enhance rural development.

Photo credit: Carla Romeu Dalmau / ESPA Policy and Practice briefing

This briefing summarizes key local environmental and socioeconomic impacts associated with biofuel feedstock production in Malawi and explore the policy implications. The results are based on a 3-year study in Dwangwa sugarcane area and the jatropha-growing areas of Mangochi district. The research considered how sugarcane and jatropha production can affect land use change, ecosystem services, multi-dimensional poverty, and food security.

Poverty alleviation and food security outcomes for those involved in the sugarcane sector vary but appear largely positive. Land use conversion for sugarcane production can have positive or negative environmental impacts. Policy-makers need to evaluate trade-offs across the different socioeconomic and environmental impacts to guide decisions that affect sugarcane development plans. Jatropha production has minimal impact on food security and poverty alleviation, whether positive or negative. The low impact of jatropha is unlikely to change unless high-yielding jatropha varieties are tested in real conditions and market options improve.