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Why charcoal burning is sustainable

Reuben Simiyu
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A woman selling charcoal. [Photo/Nation]

The crackdown on charcoal burning is a decent move by the authorities as this will ensure the environment is preserved.

The ban is inevitable and a good step moving forward but what is worrying is the high number of people who had previously heavily relied on the trade. 

It essentially translates to a need to make charcoal production sustainable and developing other alternative sources of fuel.

The World Agroforestry Centre, Food and Agriculture Organisation and Kenya Forestry Research Institute, have in the recent passed tried to come up with ways to efficiently produce charcoal.

Charcoal burning can be made possible while conserving the environment through the production of wood.

Wood production can be done in many ways including tree plantations and community managed woodlands. 

There is also tree inter-cropping where farmers grow trees alongside crops or in a separate woodlot. 

A rotation system can be used where trees are cut in a specific order or mature branches harvested, ensuring constant standing trees and also maintaining the aesthetic and scenic value of the environment.

Farmers could also harvest some trees then let the area naturally regenerate, protecting young shoots from being eaten by livestock this ensures that the area is not damaged in any way.

If dry land communities sustainable managed woodlands, charcoal that currently threatens these ecosystems would turn into a livelihood strategy.

Unfortunately, these options have not been widely adopted – a factor that could be contributed by low government budgets in charcoal and firewood programmes.

Another vital way is to use kilns to convert wood to charcoal. In most places people use kilns that convert about 15% of the original wood weight into charcoal. It remains to be seen how future technologies will bring about the increased efficiency and superb conversion rate in the kilns.

Use of kilns will reduce emissions in major production areas and that will mean clean production that does not have devastating effects on the environment

The snd use of charcoal also needs to be looked at as some households often use more charcoal than necessary, due to stoves which have low energy conversion efficiency.

They need to use improved stoves, with over 40% energy conversion, to reduce household charcoal demand.

Commercial enterprises that use charcoal should also follow suit.The reasons these technologies haven’t been implemented is that Kenya, like other African countries, needs a perception shift. 

Government, researchers and the general public need to understand that charcoal can be made sustainable. A pro-firewood and charcoal shift will see the development of technologies for sustainable wood-based energy in the country. 

Having such in place will mean a fully organized programme is rolled out to make charcoal production sustainable.

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-Reuben Simiyu

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