|Application of Biomass-energy Technologies (Habitat, 1993)|
|II. Improved charcoal production|
Devising an enabling environment for the marketing of softwood charcoal proved particularly difficult because of the limited understanding of the biomass-energy sector in Malawi and, in particular, the very limited appreciation of the operations of the traditional hardwood charcoal sub-sector. For example, the Government attempt to ban illegal charcoal production was based on the premise that the ban could be effectively policed and administered. Initial results showed some signs of success but by the end of 1988, it was estimated that confiscated charcoal accounted for less than I per cent of the country's production of illegal hardwood charcoal.
In addition, the expected biomass energy crisis which had been based on overly simplistic modelling of woodfuel consumption trends in the country led policy-makers to believe that this would lead to increased scarcity which, in turn, would substantially increase prices thus setting the stage for the introduction of alternatives. In the event, prices of charcoal were largely determined by the fluctuations in the cost of transport, and, also, the expected scarcity of biofuels did not occur. The above policy gap was compounded by the non-existence of a national policy on solid fuels which could have set preferences and priorities for this important sub-sector.
The Project overcame the above constraints by undertaking a detailed assessment of the charcoal production-to-final-sale chain and paid special attention to variation in prices. This provided information to the Project that allowed the setting of an optimum pricing of softwood charcoal and the determining of the most appropriate production and marketing system. Effective use was made of shadow-pricing mechanisms using the price of hardwood charcoal as a reference. The adoption of a dual marketing approach that targeted both low-income and high-income households was particularly effective and provides a model marketing strategy that could be emulated in other countries of the region.
One of the shortfalls of the Malawi Charcoal Project was its location in a Government agency - the Forest Department - which had many other ongoing programmes (Wood Energy Project and Blantyre City Fuelwood Project) and was overburdened. This limited the effectiveness of the Project and had an adverse impact on attempts to involve the private sector, the subject of the next section.