Sustainable charcoal supply in Kenya and the impact of the current logging ban

 


Coverage of Tinder EcoFuels by CNN MarketPlace Africa
 

Recent coverage by CNN MarketPlace Africa (link to video) highlights how Tinder EcoFuels- a sustainable charcoal producer in Kenya- is facing ongoing challenges in light of the logging ban implemented in February 2018 by the Kenyan government. Producers and consumers alike, many from underserved and rural communities, are suffering as a result of the ban. 

In this article we highlight why we believe the current logging ban in Kenya is unfairly affecting those in the industry who are paving the way towards sustainable charcoal production. 

 Deforestation as a result of unsustainable charcoal production

Deforestation as a result of unsustainable charcoal production

In late February a nationwide logging ban was announced in Kenya by the Deputy President for an initial period of 90 days, to allow for “reassessment and rationalisation of the entire forest sector in Kenya”. This was in response to increasing deforestation, droughts and human encroachment upon valuable forests and agricultural land. Since then, the ban has been revised as being only applicable on communal land and government gazetted forest, extended for another 6 months and has resulted in substantial and detrimental increases in charcoal prices for consumers. Whereas previously, a 45kg bag of charcoal would retail at around 1800ksh (18 USD), this figure has now jumped up to around 3000 ksh (30 USD) since the ban’s implementation in February (a 40% increase). In a country where 70% of all households use charcoal as their predominant cooking fuel and the net national per capita income is just $1226 per annum (2016, World Bank Data), this has a devastating impact on a consumer’s ability to purchase the charcoal they need. 

Charcoal is one of the oldest industries in the world, including in Kenya
— Fiona Mwaura, Co-Founder, Tinder EcoFuels

Tinder EcoFuels delivers two innovative solutions to key challenges in Kenya: an ever-increasing demand for charcoal and the growth of an invasive plant species, Prosopis Juliflora (otherwise known as mesquite or mathenge). As a fast-growing and resilient plant species, Prosopis has invaded at least 1.2 million hectares in Kenya alone .The Prosopis tree leads to ecological damage by restricting the growth of other plants it has encroached on valuable agricultural land. Tinder EcoFuels combines a unique and innovative business model to provide a solution to this threat, by producing charcoal from Prosopis using highly efficient and modern machinery. By only carbonising an invasive tree,preservation and restoration of Kenya’s forests is enabled. Furthermore, because Prosopis coppices (regrows after cutting down), this wood can be considered a renewable resource, and its use does not contribute to deforestation. 

“Millions of people across the continent rely on charcoal to cook food and generate heat...since [they] are so heavily dependent on charcoal, the likelihood that they will stop using it is slim”
— CNN MarketPlace Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 62 % of global charcoal production. In Kenya, the charcoal sector is worth about USD$427 million each year - almost the same size as the country’s tea sector.  Charcoal consumption in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to reach 45 million tons by 2030.

[The charcoal industry] needs to be formalised and needs to be taxed sensibly...we have to create a sustainable supply
— Peter Scott, Founder and CEO of Burn Manufacturing

The current market is dominated by informal producers and suppliers, who do not pay taxes and are not able to offer consistent, high-quality products to consumers. Furthermore, the techniques used are inefficient and contribute to vast amounts of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. Ironically, while the logging ban has impacted the operations of formal, registered businesses who are involved in the charcoal supply chain, charcoal is still being produced and supplied informally. In so doing, higher rates of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions are incurred with increasingly high prices to boot, when compared to if charcoal is produced in a sustainable, clean and efficient manner. The ban, if anything, seems to be working against its own objectives. 

 Sustainable charcoal - seen here in bags upon production - is possible and lucrative in Kenya

Sustainable charcoal - seen here in bags upon production - is possible and lucrative in Kenya

 

Tinder EcoFuels, along with other innovative key players who are disrupting the informal, unsustainable charcoal market in Kenya along the supply chain such as Burn Manufacturing, are bearing the brunt as a result of the ongoing logging ban, with operations severely impacted or even curtailed. By allowing the ban to continue the Kenyan government is delaying any shift toward a sustainable, tax revenue generating and capable charcoal industry. As the CNN coverage concludes, rather than implementing a blanket ban on charcoal, the Government should actively promote sustainable charcoal ventures.