The charcoal time bomb: why trade to cost Tanzania dearly

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What you need to know:

  • According to Tanzania Forestry Services, at least 370,000 hectares of forest are cleared per year to make charcoal, expand farm land and other activities ....

Dar es Salaam. The Forest Pledge by governments at the COP26 was meant to halt deforestation by 2030, yet about 95 percent of all households in Tanzania’s urban areas still heavily rely on charcoal for their energy needs.

Dar es Salaam consumes nearly 70 percent of all the charcoal produced in the country while the total annual charcoal business volume in the city is estimated to be worth $350 million, and $650 million to the wider (national) economy, according to the Word Bank (WB) policy note.

On the other hand, it is estimated that Tanzania’s total annual charcoal consumption stands at one million tonnes, of which at least 30 million cubic metres of wood is needed to meet such annual demand which is equivalent to 109,500 hectares of forest loss.

Part of the WB policy note reads: “Despite Tanzania’s remarkable success in adopting Participatory Forest Management (PFM) approaches, the production of charcoal results in significant degradation of forest land, and in combination with other land-use changes, to permanent deforestation in some areas of the country, especially around the main urban areas.”

Speaking exclusively to The Citizen at the weekend, Dr Joachim Mwenda, who is the director of Forest Defenders Organisation, said: “With the current high rate of urbanisation of 5-6 percent per annum coupled with population and economic growth, leads to a growing demand of charcoal, hence in an increased forest cover loss.”

Dr Mwenda whose organisation works to promote a green and sustainable transformation of society, added: “Charcoal production employs hundreds of thousands of people as producers, transporters, and retailers, and over 80 percent of the urban population consume scharcoal. Therefore, without serious or meaningful intervention, then things will worsen.”

According to him, data available at the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) projects that by 2030 the number of consumers is expected to double which is obvious fuelled by population rise and urbanisation.

Furthermore, the forest defender noted that among the impacts of forest loss is degradation of water sources, reduction in soil quality and hence decreased agricultural productivity, damaged organisms habitat, diminishing biodiversity, and reduced sequestration of carbon dioxide by trees.

Dr Mwenda was of the view that given increasing demand for charcoal, and decreasing availability of biomass, policies were urgently needed to ensure secure energy supplies for urban households and reduce deforestation.

According to him, the country has no specific policies that would regulate and guide charcoal production.

Moreover, in the country’s environmental policy, the government has provided a comprehensive guidance for which it seeks to minimise wood-fuel consumption by developing an alternative energy source to promote the exploitation of forest resources.

In his academic journal, Mr Greyson Nyamoga from Department of Forest and Environmental Economics, Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), is of the view that charcoal production may cause severe environmental and social challenges.

Mr Nyamoga, whose journal was part of his PhD mentioned the challenges derived from charcoal production saying: “These include increased deforestation, reduced ecological resilience, severe health diseases in charcoal-using urban households, and increased GHG emissions.”

“There are no improved alternative cooking technologies,” the PhD candidate warned. Adding: “Changes from traditional to more modern cooking energy systems in Tanzania are needed for developing appropriate policies related to energy, land use, and climate mitigation.”

“For instance,” noted Mr Lepa Mumbi, chairman of Chamakweza Village in Bagamoyo District: “From 2018/19 to date, 60 percent of the 17 hectares of village forest has been cut for charcoal, which is sold in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam.

Commenting, Mr Kondo Said Mwaule, a charcoal maker at Chamakweza Village said: “We know that charcoal production is harmful to the environment, but this is what we can do for us to survive. I have several children and three wives to whom I’m indebted, and since I have no reliable means of generating an income, then charcoal production comes as a rescue.”

In her paper titled: ‘Environmental Burden of Charcoal Production and Use in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’ Dr Neema Msuya, a lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) is of the view that comprehensive review on the country’s charcoal industry is needed.

According to her, increasing tendency to use charcoal instead of electricity or gas is driven by availability of charcoal and its presumed low price.

Data available at the Tanzania Forests Services Agency (TFS), a government agency responsible for monitoring the country’s forestry activities, more than 370,000 hectares (915,000 acres) of forests are being cut every year, a significant portion of it for fuel.