A regular sight – 3 stone fire used to cook nsima outdoors for lunch in rural area

Utilising their networks and involvement in energy projects in Malawi, the University of Strathclyde (UoS) have been conducting a market assessment for modern energy cooking services in Malawi in collaboration with their in-country partners Community Energy Malawi (CEM) and United Purpose (UP).

Taking inspiration from the methodologies applied in Tanzania and Zambia, the market assessment sought to combine a bottom-up perspective (via household surveys facilitated by CEM) and a top-down perspective (via online survey and expert interviews facilitated by UP). Focus groups and cooking diaries were also carried out.

Household surveys

A kobocollect survey was used by CEM to collect information about cooking practises in three areas; urban and peri urban Lilongwe (14 responses each) and a rural location in the far west of Malawi (29 responses). The survey was developed using several existing surveys including the MECS cooking diary registration survey[1] and household energy baselining surveys from a UoS energy access project[2] amongst others. The survey had three distinct parts:

  • Basic participant and household information
    • Name, age, gender, education, household size/construction, electricity supply
  • General cooking information
    • Heating water and cooking (devices/fuels used, spend, quantity)
    • Satisfaction with cooking situation
  • Indicative cooking diary
    • Weekday and weekend day (options for 3 meals, 3 dishes and hot drink per meal)
    • Each dish – dish cooked, device used and cooking method
    • Normal cooking hours

Preliminary analysis suggests that household surveys were completed to a high quality and that the indicative diary section has the potential to provide detailed insight into cooking practises using a simple survey format.

Household survey sample locations

Online survey and expert interviews

Preceding the in-country visit in November 2019, an online survey was sent to contacts in Malawi’s clean cooking sector via UoS and UP networks. The survey was used to introduce the research, gather general information about the cooking sector in Malawi, and gauge interest in taking part in detailed discussions during face-to-face interviews. 14 responses were received, informing the topics and targeting of participants of subsequent face-to-face interviews.

This was followed by a presentation about the MECS programme and the Malawi market assessment at the National Cookstove Steering Committee (http://www.mbaula.org/about/national-cookstove-steering-committee/) meeting in Lilongwe on 28th November 2019. Over the next two weeks, 7 detailed interviews were carried out with practitioners in Malawi’s clean cooking sector on the topics of past, ongoing and planned clean cooking projects, and the opportunities and barriers to modern energy cooking services in Malawi.

The MECS presentation at the NCSC was well received, and useful insight was gained from interviewing its members. Engagement with the committee should be a vital part of the MECS strategy in Malawi going forward.

NCSC meeting in Lilongwe – 29th November 2019

Other market assessment activities

Focus groups – well attended in rural area, covering preferences and reasons for cooking with certain devices. Insufficient interest in urban areas to perform a similar exercise.

Cooking diaries – methodology was trialled with CEM members and their families. More training and refinement of the methodology (perhaps including kobocollect version) is needed for future full cooking diary study.

Device/fuels information gathering – prices and availability of cooking fuels (charcoal, electricity and LPG) were gathered, alongside examples and prices of devices which use the various fuels.

Stay tuned

Data analysis and reporting is underway, so keep an eye out for an update next month!


[1] See appendix B: https://www.mecs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/eCook-Tanzania-Cooking-Diaries-Working-Paper-13-10-19-JL-COMPRESSED.pdf

[2] EASE project: https://ease.eee.strath.ac.uk/