Journal of Consumer Sciences

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The sustainability of rural Malawi households’ energy consumption practices amidst prevailing socio-economic conditions

MG Kachale Mchakulu, AC Erasmus, NC Sonnenberg


In rural Malawi, household dependence on fuelwood as a form of energy and as a source of income is contributing to alarming rates of deforestation with detrimental climate change consequences. The research aimed to generate empirical evidence of household energy consumption practices that are fundamentally part of their lifestyles, as well as their consciousness of sustainable consumption practices and their discursive consciousness concerning climate change. This study was conducted in the form of a survey and gathered evidence from two of the more densely populated rural areas in the southern part of Malawi. The quantitative survey was conducted in personal interview format among 231 non-randomly sampled households across the two districts. The results show that fuelwood and biomass are still the predominant sources of energy for diverse household activities, mostly due to accessibility and affordability. Females predominantly perform the tedious task of wood gathering from nearby woodlots and forests, which negatively influences the time they can devote to their families. Households’ practical consciousness of sustainable energy consumption practices seemed fairly good and their discursive consciousness, specifically with regard to the effect of climate change on rainfall patterns, and micro and macro factors that are responsible for climate change, was fairly impressive. This probably resulted from their first-hand experience of local environmental challenges in recent years. Lack of knowledge concerning the implications of their current behaviour for the country’s economic growth confirms the complexity of a phenomenon that citizens find difficult to comprehend. Concerted effort is thus required by both local and national government bodies to educate and empower communities socially and economically, and also to support them in the use of safer sources of energy. Results showed that rural Malawi households’ current consumption of wood and less desirable energy sources is largely beyond their control.

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