Forest management: Case study of charcoal production in East Africa

The demand for charcoal and firewood has doubled over the years, which calls for authorities to come up with effective measures, which will curb further activities that lead to deforestation.

Dar es Salaam. 

For generations charcoal has been used as a source of energy for domestic and industrial uses, but the growing population and demand sound the alarm.The demand has doubled over the years, which triggers the need for authorities to come up with apt measures that will help curb further deforestation activities.Indeed, the demand for charcoal will continue to grow, especially in Africa, where the population, urbanization and prices of alternative energy sources for cooking and heating are on the rise.With lack of affordable or accessible alternative energy, especially in low-income countries, continuous dependence on charcoal is inevitable.

The global production of wood charcoal was estimated at 52 million tonnes in 2015, according to the Charcoal Transition (2017). The report showed that Africa was producing almost 62 per cent of global charcoal while the Americas produced 19.6 per cent.In Africa, out of the 32.4 million tonnes of charcoal produced, 42 per cent were from eastern Africa, 32 per cent from western Africa, 12.2 per cent from central Africa, 9.8 per cent from northern Africa and 3.4 per cent from southern Africa.

Tanzania East Africa is the leading producer of charcoal on the continent, but Tanzania, in particular, is among the world’s top 10 charcoal producing countries, sitting seventh in 2015.Other countries on the list include Brazil, Nigeria, Ethiopia, India, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, China, Madagascar and Thailand.Tanzanian forests are excessively under threat due to ever rising demand for charcoal. Current data show that the country loses 150,433 hectares of forest each year.Due to an increase of population, by year 2030, almost 2.8 million hectares of forests will have been lost, which is equivalent to 8.5 per cent of the forests the country had in 2009.

In Tanzania Mainland, 71.2 per cent of households use firewood as the main source of energy for cooking.The total annual revenue generated by the charcoal sector for Dar es Salaam alone was estimated at $350 million (about Sh808.8 billion) and the sector also creates employment for thousands of people.Coffee and tea are estimated to contribute only $60 million and $45 million to the national economy, respectively.Unregulated and unregistered activities in charcoal production and utilization lead to an estimated revenue loss of about $100 million per year.The Forestry and Beekeeping Division (FBD) of the ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT) has a financing gap between expenditures and revenues of about $2 million.


In Kenya the charcoal sector employs nearly 900,000 people in production and trade, and has been estimated to contribute $1.6 billion per year to the economy.Demand for firewood is estimated at 41.7 million m3 per year, including 18.7 million m3 for fuel wood and 16.3 million m3 for charcoal, but the amount that can be harvested sustainably is estimated at just 31.4 million m3. That means that every year, Kenya is losing 10.3 million m3 of wood from its forests, a serious environmental concern.About 1.6 million tonnes of charcoal are produced annually, which translates to $400 million annually at current market prices. By 2013, the number of charcoal producers had gone up 25 per cent and stood at 253,808, who were producing 2.5 million tonnes, indicating a significant increase in the five-year period.

A study commissioned by Kenya Forest Service estimated the value of charcoal trade at $1.6 billion in 2013, an almost 400 per cent increase. In 2013, an average producer dealing in 30 bags of charcoal earned $95 per month as compared to $2,150 for transportation.


16 million tonnes of wood are annually transformed into 1.8 million tonnes of charcoal in Uganda.But the production is destructive, as charcoal producers often harvest whole trees from indigenous forests, believing that the bigger the logs, the better the charcoal.Over 80 per cent of the population in Uganda depends on biomass as their main source of energy.Charcoal is often preferred since it is affordable, burns with limited smoke and is easier to transport.

The 2015 National Charcoal Survey for Uganda concluded that vegetation cover significantly reduced from 45 per cent in 1990 to about 11.7 per cent in 2013 due to the ever increasing pressure and demand exerted by the rapid population growth and economic activities.It is estimated that more than half of its forest cover has been lost in the past 30 years to charcoal production and its demand continues to increase.Uganda creates more than 20,000 jobs from charcoal while firewood and charcoal contribution to Uganda’s GDP is estimated at $48 million and $26.8 million respectively (The 2015 National Charcoal Survey for Uganda).


Rwanda is the only country managing its forest resources quite well with the restoration of forests reaching 117,000 hectares between 1990 and 2010.The World Bank highlights that forests occupied 12.9 per cent of Rwanda’s land in 1990 and it had grown to 19.5 per cent in 2015.Although studies indicate that about 80 per cent of firewood used in the country is foraged (no cost for end users) and very little goes through the market economy with the continued lack of alternative energy sources such as LPG or electricity are leading to increased pressure on the available forest resources for firewood and charcoal.

In 2003, the charcoal market had a turnover of $30 million (World Bank 2006). The current trend towards increased urbanisation and the declining state of forest resources points to the need to design effective policies to address some of the pressing challenges in the energy sector.

Rwanda is expected to continue using firewood, which will be capped at 25 per cent for Kigali, 40 per cent for other urban areas and 90 per cent for rural areas and be suppressed progressively with the introduction of LPG and other alternatives including solar and thermal applications


Wood and charcoal cover 90 per cent of the country’s energy supply and the country suffers from an on-going deforestation of about nine per cent per annum – one of the world’s highest deforestation rates.Between 1990 and 2010, Burundi lost an average of 5,850 ha or 2.02 per cent of forest per year. 

In total, between 1990 and 2010, Burundi lost 40.5 per cent of its forest cover, or around 117,000 ha with the crisis starting in 1993 functioning as a major contributor.In 2010 only 6.7 per cent or 172,000 ha of Burundi was forested making it one of the most highly deficit country for firewood resources.

Given the large dependency of Burundi’s households and communities on firewood for cooking, the energy technologies used are putting additional pressure on the scarce availability of firewood.Given the large dependency of Burundi’s households and communities on wood fuel and charcoal, with firewood consumption accounting for 96 per cent of total consumption.

South Sudan

South Sudan’s charcoal production by weight was 272,000 tonnes contributing 0.5 per cent of world wood fuel production, against the country population of over 12 million individuals (FAOSTAT,2015: South Sudan).The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) reported a sharp rise in illegal activities in various areas of the young nation. The factors cited as immediate threat to South Sudan’s forests were illegal logging, gold mining and charcoal production, among others. Sadly, however, these illegal activities were/are reportedly being perpetrated by local and international individuals and actors, including members of various armed groups active in the country.

A 2015 survey carried out jointly by UN Environment and the government of South Sudan estimated that, in the capital Juba, 88 per cent of households, 74 per cent of businesses, and 40 per cent of institutions depend on charcoal energy.Furthermore, 15 per cent of households, 8 per cent of businesses, and 40 per cent of institutions use fuel wood to supplement charcoal for cooking.

This demand translates into an estimated five million trees being logged annually to supply Juba with charcoal it currently consumes.According to the country’s inaugural State of the Environment Outlook Report, launched in June 2018, fuel wood and charcoal account for over 80 per cent of all wood used in South Sudan, with an annual deforestation rate estimated at between 1.5 and 2 per cent.

Generally, the state of forest resources and biomass energy production capacity in the Eastern Africa sub region is sliding towards greater insecurity, with potential consequences of rising wood and charcoal prices, and greater concern about the long-term ability to sustain biomass supply.Charcoal production is still a big threat because it targets specific preferred species found in natural forests and woodlands, most of which are poorly managed.
Forest management: Case study of charcoal production in East Africa Forest management: Case study of charcoal production in East Africa Reviewed by Admin on April 01, 2019 Rating: 5
Powered by Blogger.