Bad charcoal production techniques fuel tree felling in Kenya

Prosopis charcoal in Kibera, Nairobi – Kenya. CIFOR / Axel Fassio

The use of inefficient charcoal production methods is accelerating the felling of trees in Kenya by charcoal producers as it remains an important source of energy in the country.

A new study by scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) and partner organizations shows that charcoal producers have little or no support for replanting trees, resulting in a lower rate of deforestation in the already tree-poor areas where most of the charcoal is produced.

“Charcoal production practices and technologies are still very traditional and wasteful; There is a lot of unnecessary tree felling and most landowners and charcoal producers are not involved in tree planting or tree care practices that would encourage tree regeneration and growth, ”the authors say.

Producers use traditional, inefficient earth ovens to make the charcoal that scientists say is wasting wood, so more trees will have to be felled to meet the growing need for charcoal in Kenya, where other cooking energy alternatives are available to many remain unreachable.

Manufacturers also stated that they rarely do wood pre-drying, which would improve the efficiency of their production process.

Each oven has been found to produce approximately six bags per pass, a volume achieved by 10 to 20 percent efficiency, with up to 80 percent of all wood wasted in the manufacturing process.

In 2000, the country was estimated to be consuming around 1.6 million tons of charcoal annually, but by 2013 it was 2.5 million tons. With an efficiency of 10 to 20 percent of the earth hill ovens it would mean that at least 25 million tons of wood are needed to meet this growing demand.

Research shows that between 40 and 75 percent of charcoal is produced in arid and semi-arid areas (ASALs), where trees are already scarce. It also found that consumer preferences had led producers to choose certain tree species like the Acacia sppthat are quickly exhausted in areas where they were available.

The naturally reproducing tree was rarely helped in regrowth, and most landowners (up to 70 percent) said they did not use management practices that aid tree regeneration after harvest, which threatens their very existence.

The landowners said they lacked tree planting and management skills and that most of the native trees regenerated naturally so they saw no need to help support their regeneration.

Only four percent had received some support for arboriculture activities, including providing tree saplings, raising awareness of the need to plant trees after felling and the importance of using deadwood / fallen wood in charcoal production, training / information on agroforestry, mixed crops, and others Environmental protection practices, marketing and training on cutting techniques

The charcoal subsector remains a major source of energy in Kenya, particularly in the fast-growing urban areas where around 60 percent of consumers rely on the raw material as the primary source of energy, according to the study, whose consumer study focused on Nairobi and Mombasa, the two largest Cities of Kenya.

Researchers called for a switch to more environmentally friendly cooking solutions to curb the growing demand for charcoal and improve production technologies to reduce unnecessary tree felling.

“Contrary to the long-standing beliefs of the energy ladder, people resort to or stack energy sources to manage expenses, reliability, food variety and cultural preferences,” said Phosiso Sola, who led the study. “Therefore, the solution is not only to switch, but also to reduce the consumption of charcoal in the household’s energy mix through the use of more efficient stoves and efficient and sustainable procurement and production of charcoal.”

The study recommends that landowners, charcoal producers and traders be supported in addressing various challenges and improving efficiency in the value chain in order to preserve more trees in the landscape and generate more income.

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