Why charcoal trade must be checked

People sit on bags full of charcoal aboard a truck as they head to the market. Charcoal trade is a big business in both urban and rural areas in Tanzania. This trade, however, is posing as a huge environment threat. Experts argue that measures should be taken to control it, including using various innovations. PHOTO | FILE


  • According to the 2009 World Bank report, Dar es Salaam alone uses approximately 500,000 tonnes of charcoal annually. This amount is estimated to surge in the coming years. Over 90 per cent of Tanzanian households use charcoal or firewood as their primary source of fuel.

Morogoro. Energy sources in developing countries remains a major issue as a big percentage of the population continues to depend on firewood and charcoal for their fuel needs.

According to the 2009 World Bank report, Dar es Salaam alone uses approximately 500,000 tonnes of charcoal annually. This amount is estimated to surge in the coming years. Over 90 per cent of Tanzanian households use charcoal or firewood as their primary source of fuel.

However, experts warn of the environmental risks the country is facing due to laxity in the control of how much charcoal is made against the rate of deforestation.

According to the National Forestry Resources Monitoring and Assessment (Naforma), deforestation in Tanzania is high whereas 372,000 to 582,000 hectares of forests is lost every year.

Primary drivers of forest loss include cropland expansion, charcoal making, fuel wood harvesting and clearing for pasture.

The report also mentions top regions affected most by deforestation as including Tabora, Coast, Morogoro, Lindi and Mbeya.

Experts from universities, civil societies and government gathered in Morogoro Town recently to discuss and suggest solutions on how to sustainably manage forestry resources.

Prof Emmanuel Luoga, who is the deputy vice chancellor of Mbeya University of Science and Technology, observes that the estimated annual wood removal for all uses in village lands exceeds the reported mean annual increment.

“Charcoal alone contributes 56.4 per cent of the total tree removal in village lands and 91 per cent of all harvested tree species,” he says.

“In 1964, woodlands covered 82.3 per cent of the area in general lands. Between 1964 and 1996, woodland has declined by 50 per cent.

“Farming and commercial harvesting of trees for charcoal were major expanding land use in general lands while scattered croplands and bush lands increased from 5.6 per cent of the land in 1964, to 39 per cent in 1996,” he adds.

Way to go in charcoal production

Explaining on how sustainable charcoal production project works, Forest Programme coordinator for WWF in Tanzania, Isaac Malugu, says charcoal production, especially, in Rufiji, Kilwa, Lindi Rural and Tunduru districts has been high due to availability of miombo woodlands within short distances, good accessibility and growing market demand for charcoal by expanding urbanisation along the recently improved Tunduru–Dar esSalaam highway.

“The most significant market for charcoal from the four districts is Dar es Salaam, other emerging markets include Lindi and Songea municipalities,” he says.

Malugu says the charcoal trade is largely unregulated, thus it lacks records due to use of unauthorized routes, licensing procedures/guidelines are inadequate and the capacity of the district councils to control, monitor and reverse the situation is still limited due to shortage of staff and lack of proper equipment to make follow up.

He says the environment is under threat because of the high rate of deforestation. The pace of environmental degradation increases due to tree felling in areas with steep slopes.

Malugu says even some water sources and rain catchment areas have been invaded, with the threat encompassing endangered species and biodiversity.

“District harvesting plans lack updated inventory data to quantify available resources and allowable harvesting volumes thus making them incompatible to environmental sustainability principles,” says Malugu.

Theron Morgan-Brown who is the technical advisor of TFCG, says though the Forest Act (2002) empowers villages to establish village forest reserves, in the absence of clear economic benefits, villages prefer to convert forests to agriculture land.

He adds that, the Tanzania Forests Services Agency (TFS) was created and sets out to improve revenue collection (including charcoal royalties), as a result it has became a new way villages use for increased income, making it impossible for forests to survive the sharp market demands for its products.

“Sustainable and controlled charcoal production, on the other hand, just like sustainable timber production, can be a way of mobilising the community to conserve forests in Tanzania,” he suggests.

He suggests that district officials should work with charcoal producing villages to determine and plan land use as well as enhancing community based forest management.

“They should identify areas suitable for sustainable charcoal production within village forest reserves. The best would be those areas with a low elevation, which are easily accessible and the miombo woodlands dominated by the Brachystegia species,” he says.

“Work with villages to establish Forest Management Units (FMUs) for charcoal,” he adds.


Supporting the matter, Juvenal Pantaleo of Mpingo Conservation and Development says as the conservation group they help communities to own and manage forests.

“We train communities to responsibly harvest timber, which is later certified by forests Stewardship Council,” he says.

“We link communities with buyers, helping them to sell their timber locally, regionally and internationally,” he adds.

He says they support 41 villages that cover 410,500 hectares in Kilwa, Rufiji, Tunduru and Namtumbo districts.

“This is the first-ever commercial timber harvest from a natural community forest in Tanzania in which timber sales to date in 18 village is worth over Sh1.2 billion. This money has been spent on healthcare facilities like birthing kits for 470 expecting mothers,” he says.

In terms of education he says, they have covered school fees for 42 secondary school students, one primary school and uniforms for 323 students. At the same time, they have supported the drilling of 12 boreholes for provision of water services.

“We train conservation groups and village governments to manage forests, harvesting and revenue from harvesting. Charcoal makers are also trained in improved harvesting and kiln making techniques,” says Pantaleo.

“The groups are trained to protect harvested crops from fire, livestock, and farming. Regeneration comes from coppicing, root suckers, suppressed trees 10 cm and below, and seeds,” he adds.

In terms of earnings, he says that, trees below 10 cm are not counted and all high value timber species, average biomass is 43 tonnes per hectare.

“Assuming 90 per cent of remaining biomass can be harvested and that kiln efficiency is 18.5 per cent one hectare produces 80 to 90-kg bags of charcoal. “Average village royalties are currently Sh12,000 per bag, which means that each harvested hectare generates Sh960,000 for villages. Profit for producers after paying royalties is about Sh12,000 per bag,” he says.

He adds that the first phase of their project the villages have put 57,300 hectares of forests in village forest reserves of which 4,872 hectares are in charcoal Project Effects on Deforestation.


On the government side, the chief Forests officer of the Tanzania Forest Agency (TFS), Elias Nkwilima admits that the forest degradation is alarming, so they have designed a big rescue plan.

“We intend to plant trees in 185,000 hectares to cover the needs. This will take up to 20 years,” he says.