Economy

New laws legalise sustainable charcoal trade to save forests

Kenya Forest Service officials seize charcoal before the lifting of a ban on charcoal-burning and sale. The new Forest Act will provide for charcoal-burning on a sustainable basis to stop forest destruction and ensure constant supply of fuel to families that cannot afford alternative fuels. Photo/LABAN WALLOGA
Kenya Forest Service officials seize charcoal before the lifting of a ban on charcoal-burning and sale. The new Forest Act will provide for charcoal-burning on a sustainable basis to stop forest destruction and ensure constant supply of fuel to families that cannot afford alternative fuels. Photo/LABAN WALLOGA 

The new charcoal rules which are currently being enforced by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) seek to regulate an industry that has largely been viewed as illegal and promote it as a sustainable enterprise but the short term effect has been a spike in the retail cost of charcoal, hurting household budgets.

The rules which came into effect after gazettement on December 24 last year are aimed at making the industry attractive to investors so that they can put money into sustainable charcoal production while promoting conservation and reforestation and the use of technology for production.

KFS officials said under the new rules, the forestry service will also promote the best tree species for charcoal production and efficient technologies, including high carbonisation rate kilns for production.

“The forestry service seeks to regulate the charcoal industry and promote it as a viable business. What has happened over time is that there has been no incentive for investments in the industry and technology because you cannot invest in an industry without clear policy? You cannot be sure of tomorrow,” said Emilio Mugo, senior deputy director, KFS, in a recent interview with the Business Daily.

“For the government to encourage better returns, innovation and technology. It has to recognise it as a legal enterprise so that people can invest in it, plant trees specifically for charcoal production, develop technology that will improve recovery rates and provide a commodity market,” he said.

“Off course we are encouraging people to look at alternatives. For example, we have people producing charcoal from coffee husks. Charcoal production should actually be a by-product of timber and this is the trend the world over,” he added.

The new rules are being implemented at a time when the World Bank recently launched the Biomass Energy Initiative for Africa (BEIA) that seeks to facilitate the promotion of biomass modernisation in the continent through funding amounting to $3.5 million (Sh280 million) of which Kenya is a beneficiary.

BEIA seeks to promote the efficient production and use of charcoal among other biomass and biofuel sources as they are the main energy source for households in Sub-Saharan Africa, a trend that is expected to continue through 2030.

“Biomass is the predominant energy source for Sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for 81 per cent of the overall energy consumption” said Johannes Zutt, World Bank Country Director for Kenya during the launch of the BEIA last month.

He said that even though it is still widely used, its production was still based on inefficient and unsustainable traditional approaches that had a negative impact on health and the environment.

“In Sub-Saharan Africa, biomass will continue to play a major role in the energy sector at least until 2030 so we need also to focus on making the use of biomass energy sustainable,” he said.

Rogerio Miranda, a consultant with Winrock International, said that studies show that the charcoal industry generates over $450 million (Sh36 billion) providing employment to over 700,000 individuals in the country but very little investment had been made given its economic importance.

While KFS estimates that over 80 per cent of urban and 50 per cent of rural dwellers use the fuel to cook, World Bank studies show that the country’s annual demand exceeds 1.6 million tons a year.

The National Environment Management Authority estimated biomass energy supply at 15.4 million tons against demand of over 38.1 million tons in 2004, reflecting a 60 per cent deficit.

“I think charcoal production has been criminalised and by having legislation in place is the best way to have it as an enterprise. What the new regulations are doing is to recognise charcoal as a commodity that can be traded and also recognise that at the moment it is being produced from unsustainable sources which are also affecting the environment,” said Mr Mugo at KFS.

“This will bring all the stakeholders together in the whole of the value chain so that it can be viewed as a viable enterprise and people can invest in production and technology. Investors will be more willing to put their money in the industry” he said.

“Without the legislation, charcoal production will take place underground and it will be difficult to regulate, having a negative effect on the economy and the environment. Wood resources are renewable and sustainable resources if well maintained,” he added.

The coming into effect of the new rules has disrupted supply in many urban areas as the forestry service has increased surveillance in government forests and cracked down on producers and transporters who do not have valid permits.

A rise in the price of charcoal, most of which comes from trust and private land has been the result.

This has exerted pressure on household budgets of middle and low income families who rely on the fuel for cooking.

Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that the average price of a four kilogramme tin of charcoal went up 92 per cent from Sh37 in September last year to Sh71 in September this year.

Charcoal dealers are now selling a 90 kilogram sack at between Sh800 and Sh1,000; up from Sh600 12 months ago.

Middle and low income families who mostly use charcoal for their cooking and heating are being forced to spend more as the dealers shift additional costs to the consumer.

Traders in Nairobi who sought anonymity as many carry out their trade without licenses told the Business Daily they were not aware of the new rules but that they have had to pay higher bribes to police manning road blocks following the intensified conservation efforts.

“What has been going on is that we are focusing on the whole country. We have increased the level of surveillance in terms of movement of charcoal and have suspended charcoal production from some of the areas, for example Mau, Narok, Transmara, Molo especially in the encroached areas” said Mr Mugo

“We are also not giving movement permits for those areas and obviously what that will do is cause a bit of imbalance between supply and demand and that will have an effect on prices. We have also done the same for Kajiado from May last year where have not been issuing movements permits” he said

The new rules, published under legal notice number 186 made KFS the sole authority for issuing licences for the production and transportation of charcoal and mandatory for all commercial producers and transporters to organise themselves into producer and transporter associations which are issued a registration certificate by the forestry service.

The associations, aimed at promoting self regulation, make it easier for forest service to monitor production and transportation and make the issuance of charcoal licences easier for members while charging them with the responsibility of ensuring reforestation conservation plans are implemented.

Movement permits will be issued to association members after a recommendation from the association making it easy for the KFS to track which areas the charcoal is coming from.

Wholesalers and retailers are required to keep all records and copies of sources of charcoal, certificates of origin and movement permits.

Producers are required to provide detailed personal information, places where the charcoal is being produced, designated charcoal collection points and consents from land owners to produce charcoal to be granted a producer licence.

Additional information required include tree species used and the type of technology used for production, recommendation from the local environment committee and reforestation and conservation plans for the area under charcoal production.

“Kajiado has made a bold move in that they have set up a management committee and have proposed a system similar to what we have suggested in the charcoal rules and have proposed how they want to manage their charcoal industry,” said Mr Mugo.

“They want to form an association for production and transportation in the same lines that the new rules are advocating so we have told them to finalize that and we will have no problem giving them that allowance,” he said, adding that producers in Kitui were also in the process.

He said legally produced and licensed charcoal coming from the Tana River and Baringo areas was being sold in urban areas adding that by forming associations, producers would be able to access new technologies economically while KFS would be able to promote conservation and reforestation efforts.

Some of the new technologies that are being promoted by the forestry service are kilns that have higher carbonisation rates.

According to the Jim Okutto, head of biomass, KFS, who has been training producers on the use of the new charcoal kilns, traditional methods produce about 10 per cent from the wood that is put in but the new kilns which sell for Sh150,000 can get a charcoal producer up to 50 or 60 per cent.

Value chain

“This adds on to the sustainability and the response from producers has been very good. If initially you used 20 trees to get 20 bags and with the new technology you can get 60 bags, the response will be positive,” said Mr Okutto.

“Unless you have large tracts of land it would be uneconomical to invest in a machine like this as an individual because your land will not supply enough raw materials to feed this machine. The idea is to bring people together and identify this as an enterprise,” said Mr Mugo.

“It is a whole value chain where you start with planting and waiting for the trees to grow and then have a management plan combining several people together. If in a certain year the plan is to get raw materials from a certain area you can keep this machine economically,” he said.

Mr Mugo said charcoal and wood resources are sustainable in nature if they are properly managed.

“You can grow trees and harvest them at a certain point. If you want so many tones of charcoal in five or 10 years from now you can plan and produce it. In that respect it is sustainable. Unfortunately most of what is coming from trust lands is coming from fragile ecosystems” he said.

Kuki Gallmann of The Gallmann Memorial Foundation, which runs a conservancy in Laikipia, said that alternative means of producing charcoal using woody shrubs and bushes like Tarconathus Camphoratus, commonly known as lelechwa and prosopis that was imported in Baringo area and would be suitable for sustainable charcoal production.

She said that other technologies such as the Adam Retort that do not allow the black soot, which is environmentally damaging, to fly out with the smoke during charcoal production, making them environmentally friendly, should also be promoted.

dmugwe@ke.nationmedia.com