Charcoal-making threatens forests

Hashim Nantanga, a Mkuranga resident in Coast Region, makes charcoal at a local furnace recently. PHOTO | Said Khamis

What you need to know:

  • Nearly 50,000 hectares are destroyed annually for firewood and charcoal, causing increased rate of soil erosion

Dar es Salaam. When you talk of the available source of energy, charcoal is always on the top of the list. Most people prefer to use it because it is cheap and readily available compared to other sources like electricity and natural gas.

Despite the fact that charcoal and firewood are cheap, they are unfriendly to the environment.

Taxes and fines are a tip of the iceberg. There is more to this than meets the eye and users of charcoal are vulnerable to a wide range of diseases.

According to available data, about 61 per cent of available land has been depleted to the extent that semi deserts are occurring due to felling of trees for charcoal and firewood.

Deputy secretary of Vice President’s Office (Union and Environmental Affairs), Ambassador Joseph Sokoine, says clearance of forests has increased the rate of soil erosion and extensive soil exhaustion.

Mr Sokoine said apart from environmental effects, the use of charcoal and firewood poses a threat for various health complications.

“It may be the cheapest energy source, but the firewood and charcoal businesses cause deforestation and they are in contravention of the law,” he said.

Mr Sokoine said the use of charcoal and firewood leads to airborne diseases and prolonged use of these energy sources has been leading to sight problems because charcoal and firewood produce carbon monoxide more than the internationally allowed standard.

He added that the second environment report in Tanzania of 2014 showed that speed of clearing forest has been increasing drastically.

“According to World Health Organisation, about 4.3 million people die every year because of air pollution, which is largely caused by the use of these energy sources,“ he noted.

He further said despite the notion that these energy sources are cheap and readily available, they are costly when it comes to treating illnesses and restoring the natural vegetation.

Amb Sokoine said some deforested regions include Dodoma, Singida, Shinyanga, Manyara, Simiyu and Geita to mention but a few.

“This situation has cause shortage of water and low crops productivity in these areas because these areas are left bare, which means soil’s ability to retain water has gone down and soil erosion rate is high,” he noted.

He added: “The second environment report of 2014 in Tanzania shows that the rate forests clearance has been rising at an alarming rate with at least 46,942 hectares being deforested annually,”

He also said that the country’s priority was to build industrial economy, thus manufacturing of alternative charcoal has of great importance together with production of economic cookers.

Amb Sokoine used the occasion to ask and advice individuals, groups, institutions, vocational collages, investors to continue coming up with technologies, which will replace charcoal.

One of the charcoal users, Ms Pili Hamad, admitted that the use of charcoal has both health and environment effects, but it was difficult to quit because the energy is cheap and easily available.

“It is true that charcoal has effects, but because it is cheap, it is difficult to stop using it. The government should intervene and ensure that ordinary people can afford gas,” she said.

The Director of the Industry dealing with manufacturing of alternative charcoal and economic cookers, Mr Leonard Kushoka, said the effects caused by the use of traditional charcoal are greater than those caused by alternative charcoal.

However, Mr Kushoka said there is a challenge on the spread of alternative charcoal in the market leading to continuous use of traditional charcoal.

However, according to him, they have not given up on educating the mass on the importance of adopting alternative energy sources.

“Extra effort is needed to transform individuals from using charcoal, something which they are familiar with, to using alternative energy such as sustainable charcoal,” said Mr Kushoka.

On the rules guiding harvesting of forests, the Tanzania Forest Service Agency (TFS), Mr Arjanson Mloge, said, charcoal is legally accepted like any other businesses and that there were rules and principles, which have been set to guide their existence.

He said the harvesting of forest products, charcoal included, is guided by the forest law number 14 of 2002 and Principles of Forests of year 2004.

“Anyone wishing to harvest forest products is required to send a request to the district forest committee,” he said.