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SEI brief

Energy Access and Biomass Resource Transitions in Malawi

This policy brief, based on a National Seminar on Bioenergy held in October 2012, explores what it will take to transition Malawi from traditional to modern bioenergy, and argues that scaling up modern bioenergy could be a ‘game-changer’.

Francis X. Johnson / Published on 7 January 2013

Johnson, F.X., and C. Jumbe (2013). Energy Access and Biomass Resource Transitions in Malawi. SEI Policy Brief.

Malawi gets 88% of its total energy and 98% of its household energy from traditional biomass, while access to modern energy services is less than 10% overall, and under 1% in some rural areas. Combined with agricultural clearing and high population density, this heavy reliance on traditional biomass has contributed to biomass scarcity, land degradation and deforestation.

Land-locked Malawi also faces significant energy insecurity due to its complete reliance on costly imported refined petroleum products – petrol, diesel and kerosene (or paraffin). This imposes additional constraints on transport infrastructure, business development and households.

The authors find that agro-forestry approaches could improve land management and soil fertility, and provide more effective bioenergy feedstock options. Straight vegetable oil (SVO) from smallholder Jatropha production is also now being used for blending with diesel and paraffin, which may help address energy insecurity.

Malawi has 30 years’ experience with sugarcane ethanol production and blending with petrol; however, existing production capacity is under-utilized and expansion opportunities remain underexploited. Infrastructure improvements and supportive policies are needed to scale up biofuels.

The authors also note that given Malawi’s high dependence on rain-fed agriculture, hydropower and traditional biomass, climate change is a significant concern, so diversification in energy sources and agricultural production should be major priorities. Improved cookstoves and fuel switching to biogas or liquid biofuels are also promising strategies.

In addition, cogeneration of heat and electricity from agricultural residues, especially sugarcane bagasse, offers a cost-effective way to diversify the energy mix; feed-in tariffs or related support mechanisms would help to attract investments.

Read the policy brief (PDF, 1.1MB)

SEI author

Francis X. Johnson
Francis X. Johnson

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Asia

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