* Since time immemorial, most charcoal has been produced in rural areas — Neno being one big source
* With targeted market being the city and town dwellers, thus need to connect more to the national grid
By Duncan Mlanjira
In recognition that the target for charcoal production is for cities and towns residents, Minister of Energy, Ibrahim Matola pledged that they are enhancing the provision of electricity as its alternative to cooking.
He said this at the launch of 2024 tree planting exercise for Electricity Generation Company (EGENCO) at Lisungwi Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) after Secretary for Energy, Alfonso Chikuni told the gathering of the area’s community members and EGENCO partners that people in the rural areas are not the biggest consumers of charcoal.
He bemoaned that since time immemorial, most charcoal has been produced in rural areas — Neno being one big source — with targeted market being the city and town dwellers.
He said to arrest this, which leads to wanton cutting down of trees — including in government reserved forests — there is need to enhance alternative power production that include provision of off-grid and mini-grid services to cater for rural communities.
This in turn will ease the burden of transmission of hydro generated power while at the same time, as the connectivity increases, so shall its electricity tariff decrease for city and town households to drop charcoal as their source of cooking energy.
In his remarks, Minister of Energy pledged the same, saying the 27% of the population’s connectivity to the national grid is inadequate, decrying that the 27% was an improvement over the past few years following several initiative government rolled out that include construction of solar panel plants onto the national grid.
On the tree planting exercise, Matola applauded EGENCO for the initiative, appreciating that the hydro generation plants at Nkula, Tedzani and Kapichira are constantly being challenged with siltation and other debris from the Shire River because there are no trees to block them.
Thus EGENCO’s tree planting exercise to reafforest communities such as Lisungwi, whose Phwadzi River flows into Lisungwi and in turn feeds EGENCO’s main source of generating power, the Shire River.
Before the symbolic tree planting exercise, whose target is to plant 35,000 seedlings in Neno District this year, the Minister was appraised that initially Phwadzi was an annual river but that ceased before it has been clogged with siltation over the year, turning it into a perennial.
This was because rain water that flows into it brings forth silt since its sorrounding communities don’t have trees to act a brake for silt and other debris. This scenario is the same throughout the path of the Shire River all the way from Mangochi.
Matola also appreciated EGENCO’s initiative to involve young minds of Lisungwi CDSS, which is aimed at inculcating the culture of conservation of the environment, saying: “It’s our generation which has led to climate change due to deforestation we have contributed to.
“But it’s now our duty to leave a legacy to this young generation by instilling in them the culture of replacing trees they cut as EGENCO is doing.”
On top of the 5,000 trees that EGENCO provided for Lisungwi CDSS, the company also provided equipment — watering cans, holes, wheelbarrows and chemical sprayers to make sure of at least 90% survival rate for the trees planted; prompting the Minister to implore on the young minds to take care of the trees planted.
“It’s the responsibility of each one of us, including the chiefs present here, to make sure that if you cut two trees, replace them with 10 or more and to make sure they are well taken care of till they grow.
“The damage that was brought through Cyclones Ana and Freddy, which we all experienced, should be a stark reminder that climate change is real and that it’s because we are cutting down more trees than we are replacing.
Thus he asked the young minds, the traditional leaders and the whole communities to consider planting fruit trees, whose benefits cannot be over-emphasised as they can be sold to the very city and town dwellers for their economic benefits.
In order to impress the young minds and the whole community that climate change is a global challenge, the Minister paused in his speech to play late Michael Jackson’s hit song:
‘Heal the World, make it a better place
For you and for me and the entire human race
There are people dying
If you care enough for the living
Make a better place for you and for me’
Matola asked everyone else to hold hands during the song as a sign of shared responsibility in the conservation of the environment.
EGENCO’s acting Chief Executive Officer, Eng. Maxon Chitawo attested that siltation and other debris at their generation plants is their biggest challenge as they affect water levels since they require high levels.
“Siltation and other debris into our machines come with it huge costs of maintenance and repairs of damaged infrastructure,” he said. “That’s why we just have to intervene by impressing on the communities the importance of the conservation of the environment.”
He also implored on the communities to take good care and announced that the provision of watering cans, holes, wheelbarrows and chemical sprayers will also be extended to all areas they have targeted in Neno.
Present at the ceremony, among others, were the area’s Traditional Authority Symon; Member of Parliament, Mark Katsonga Phiri; Parliamentary Environmental Committee chairperson Welani Chilenga; zone forestry officers; EGENCO’s stakeholders (ESCOM, Blantyre & Southern Region Water Boards, FDH Bank) and former MP Joe Manduwa — who is a passionate fruit tree farmer in the area where he has huge orchards and he attested to the benefits of agro-fruits business.