Artisanal Energy? The Ethics of Charcoal Prosumption in Madagascar 

Andrew Walsh

Charcoal producers are among the most frequently maligned entrepreneurs in Madagascar, often singled out in conservation reports and targeted in conservation measures as enemies of the island’s threatened forests and ecosystems. And yet charcoal remains the island’s dominant cooking fuel, and, thus, primary energy commodity. In recent years, international organizations and Malagasy state agencies have attempted to address this problem by encouraging alternative sources of cooking fuel as well as new, more sustainable, sorts of charcoal production and consumption. In this paper, I discuss what such efforts, and the responses they have received in Malagasy communities, reveal about the ethical entanglements of energy production and consumption in contexts in which global and local understandings of sustainability meet. By highlighting the artisanal nature of longstanding traditions of Malagasy charcoal production and consumption – in particular, how charcoal engages actors with responsive material energy sources in ways that alternatives do not – I also hope to draw attention to key features of energy “prosumption” (Reid Ellsworth-Krebs and McCauley n.d.) that are often left out of discussions of sustainability and energy ethics in Madagascar and beyond.