Thursday, July 09, 2015

Charcoal Options

In Africa alone, over 80% of the population still depends on firewood and charcoal for cooking, and this is unlikely to change due to population growth and rising urbanization. So rather than condemning traditional sources of energy, what is needed are sustainable wood-fuel systems to avoid forest degradation and generate positive development. Charcoal is one of the most commercialized resources in sub-Saharan Africa. FAO estimates official charcoal production for Africa to be 30.6 million tons in 2012, worth between US$9.2 billion and US$24.5 billion annually. Despite this huge value of production, policies to effectively govern the sector are lacking in most African countries.

The question is: How can the sustainable use of tree-based bioenergy be a solution to development, as well as mitigation and adaptation to climate change?

Henry Neufeldt, the head of the climate change unit at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) says  “However, if managed properly charcoal can provide a low-cost and locally available energy source that has the potential to become sustainable and contribute significantly to poverty alleviation….Links between charcoal production and deforestation and degradation need further clarification so that current and future impacts on land cover, the regional water balance and the global climate can be appropriately addressed. The capacity of agroforestry systems, woodlots and small plantations to meet growing demands for charcoal, and reduce pressure on forests, needs urgent investigation,” added Neufeldt.

About 80 experts and policy makers recently convened at a workshop organized by ICRAF in Nairobi, Kenya, to draft an agenda for action to influence the inclusion of firewood and charcoal and liquid biofuels in energy planning in Africa. A key recommendation of the workshop is to recognize that improving the cooking of food in Africa requires an in-depth understanding of the entire system, from production to end-user, and investments should therefore be based on improving the entire cooking system rather than targeting elements of it. In summary, the participants concluded that tree-based bioenergy systems, ranging from firewood and charcoal to liquid biofuels and power generation, offer great opportunities for sustainable green growth pathways in sub-Saharan Africa. What is needed to effectively promote them is a shift in perception to rehabilitate their negative image, a holistic approach that considers the full production to end-user cycle, collaboration of relevant stakeholders to overcome investment barriers and political coordination at subnational to national and regional levels.

No comments: