The landlocked African country is one of the least developed countries in the world and boasts a population of over 15 million people. 85% of the population live in rural areas with low access to basic services including health, education, and electricity. The majority of Malawians are poor smallholder farmers who rely on subsistence agriculture to survive and are highly vulnerable to changing climate conditions—drought, flooding, erosion, etc. Despite the harsh realities of poverty, the country has remained largely a peaceful country and boasts a rich culture of kindness and friendliness. The country has been dubbed the “Warm Heart of Africa”.
Charcoal is often seen today as a backwards and obsolete fuel source. However, for the majority of both urban and rural households in Malawi, charcoal usage is a way of life and is the only option available. 5% of households in Malawi have access to electricity. However, local dependency on this cheap fuel source is contributing to a dire deforestation problem. In total, between 1990 and 2010, Malawi lost 16.9% of its forest cover, or around 659,000 hectares—one of the highest deforestation rates in Southeastern Africa. This has led to the criminalization of the trade and increased strain on the government to find a more lucrative business for illegal charcoal producers and traders. Currently, the informal charcoal trade employs an estimated 93,000 people—many of which are living below the poverty line. If regulated, it is a multi-million dollar industry that has the capability to become a top agricultural earner alongside tobacco and tea with an estimated worth of $41.3 million in Malawi’s four largest cities alone.
Bamboo Lota's goal is to introduce a more sustainable alternative into the local energy market: bamboo charcoal.