Complex Problems Require Complex Solutions

Dr. Zacharia Magombo
Chair, Africa energy forum

The current deforestation crisis is a result of complex factors, ranging from population growth with the subsequent increase in demand for resources and services, to the collapse and failure of governance systems, exacerbated by corruption, politics, and failure to set our priorities and change our mindset. The situation is further compounded by emerging issues, particularly climate change.

Complex problems require complex solutions that address both the short and long term. Efforts to reduce charcoal supply from the point of production, without concurrently addressing high charcoal demand in urban areas, lack of alternative energy sources, and governance system failure, will not stop deforestation.

Some of the things we are doing are appropriate – promoting use of LPG and solar as alternative sources of energy, restoration of degraded areas, promotion of forest regeneration, and use of efficient technologies such as the efficient cooking stoves. The problem is that we are not doing these things to a scale that corresponds to the degree of the problem.

Why can’t we facilitate nationwide use of LPG? Why can’t we have a nationwide awareness campaign on the use of LPG? The piecemeal approach to activities that address the problem of deforestation will not change the current trajectory of the deforestation problem. Malawi needs prioritisation of best practices and to undertake those practices to a scale that will make an impact.

To solve this complex problem, everyone must be involved: the government (be it the legislative, executive, and judicial arms), the general public, private entities and entrepreneurs, politicians, local leadership, community level structures, individuals, philanthropists, scientists, researchers, media, the business community, the religious community, and youth.

Among these, government and politicians have a leading role in creating an enabling environment for others to play a role in a professional and complementary manner. For example, the government has to come up with policies/legislation that helps to translate research findings by scientists into tools for spurring economic development.

Consider, for instance, the statistics where more than 96% of households rely on charcoal and firewood as their primary cooking fuels, and about 20% of the entire population have access to electricity. This is information that should make government officials and politicians urgently consider appropriate medium and long term approaches in solving the energy crisis. To the contrary, we seem to be naive to realities on the ground and continue to act at a scale that amounts to nothing except satisfying our personal egos.

It is not too late to reduce, stop and reverse deforestation, as nature has a huge capacity to recover given the opportunity to do so. I also believe that it is not too late if we implement best practices to scale. On the other hand, doing nothing about the current deforestation crisis is not an option.