Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Congo Forest and Charcoal

 The rainforest of the Congo River basin covers 178m hectares (440m acres) across six countries. It absorbs about 4% of global annual carbon emissions, sustains rainfall as far away as Egypt, and is home to 80 million people – and a vast spectrum of rare animals, insects and flora. Its preservation is deemed key in the fight against global heating.

But DRC has one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation, losing 490,000 hectares (1.2m acres) of primary rainforest in 2020, according to Global Forest Watch. Unlike in the Amazon, where industrial-scale logging is mostly responsible, in DRC small-scale charcoal production and slash and burn agriculture drive deforestation; about 90% of forest loss between 2000 and 2014 was due to smallholder agriculture, according to a 2018 report in Science Advances.

At Cop26 in Glasgow, more than 100 leaders pledged to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030 and committed $1.5bn (£1.2bn) for the Congo Basin, with $500m earmarked for the first five years. After signing the deal, DRC’s president, Félix Tshisekedi, said food security and action on the climate crisis would be delivered “through sustainable agriculture, primarily in the savannahs”. But while plans are being made to promote community forestry, there are concerns that efforts to stop logging are not going to plan, with DRC’s first reporting target being missed. Meanwhile, the demand for charcoal remains high.

With gas prices high and limited electric grid power, charcoal is big business, with 90% of DRC’s population using it to cook daily. One study revealed that the capital, Kinshasa, receives 4.8m cubic metres of fuelwood and charcoal a year.  56% of charcoal used in the city of Goma is produced illegally in Virunga national park. Here the World Wildlife Fund in DRC is supporting production of thousands of energy-efficient charcoal stoves and family biogas generators, as well as trying to restore forests. WWF says it has planted about 20 million fast-growing trees since 2007 for charcoal and carpentry, but this has reduced deforestation rates in Virunga by just 2.2%.

Biologist Cédric Muliri, 25, has been working with humanitarian organisation Objectif Brousse since 2019, teaching women to produce and sell soap, cooking stoves and honey, alongside making 1,000 fuel balls a day, selling them at $1 for 20. The fuel balls burn 70% more efficiently than charcoal, cutting the price of fuel by a third and reducing deforestation. “It’s economic and ecological – now they won’t need to go into the park and cut down trees and kill animals,” says Muliri, who graduated from Bukavu University and is pursuing a career in community integration and the protection of south Kivu’s environment. He believes taking care of DRC’s poor people will safeguard the forest, and wants to see more projects like this, estimating that if 1,000 women are involved, deforestation could be reduced in the park by 25–30%.

Powerful officials have interests in the charcoal trade continuing in DRC, a country battered by brutal colonisation resulting in decades of conflict, and corrupt politicians who have used its mineral wealth as personal piggy banks.

“If we don’t address this issue, in 10 years plus we will not talk about forests,” says Thierry Lusenge, sustainable energy manager at WWF-DRC. “It will be coffee plantations, cocoa plantations, palm … but no forest.”

‘In 10 years, we might not have forests’: DRC struggles to halt charcoal trade – a photo essay | Global development | The Guardian

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