27 Dec 2019 Story Forests

Charcoal: a burning issue

Photo by UN-REDD Programme

Studies have identified charcoal production as one of the main drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Zambia. The traditional methods of making charcoal lead to high carbon emissions and are a waste of wood resources.

“Of course, I would prefer not making charcoal. It’s bad for my health, but it’s also harmful to the women who are using it to cook and it destroys the forest,” says one of the members of the Choma Charcoal Association in Zambia. “But what can we do? The reality is that we still depend on it, especially now that there is a severe drought. One of the dams is empty and electricity is becoming scarce, so more people than ever are relying on charcoal. I myself cannot grow crops due to the lack of water, so I need to survive and therefore, have returned to making charcoal.”

Under the lead of Mercy Mupeta Kandula, the provincial Forestry Officer for Choma, together with the Forestry Department of the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources in Zambia and the Forest and Farm Facility, charcoal producers have been educated on the illegality of charcoal burning and trained in improved methods.

Picture of Mercy
Picture of Mercy

“We involved the charcoal producers in woodlot establishment and regeneration programmes, and also set up a participatory guarantee system to certify sustainable charcoal production. The link with REDD+ is clear; we help reduce one of the drivers of deforestation by improving sustainable production methods, reducing the need to cut trees and reducing carbon emissions,” says Mercy.

The UN-REDD Programme is the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) in developing countries. The Programme was launched in 2008 and builds on the convening role and technical expertise of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The Programme supports nationally led REDD+ processes and promotes the informed and meaningful involvement of all stakeholders, including indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities, in national and international REDD+ implementation. Additionally, the programme supports national REDD+ readiness efforts in 65 partner countries, spanning Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

Picture of improved kiln
Picture of improved kiln

“We introduced an improved kiln that has a chimney made of drums,” says trainer Kelvin Phiri. “The traditional way to produce charcoal is to cut big hardwood logs, put sand on them and set them on fire. Then, they burn without oxygen for a couple of days and create charcoal. In the improved system, we just prune trees, take only small branches, put them into the improved kiln, seal it with sand and let it burn. The big difference is with the old method, the carbon is retained in the charcoal, whereas with the chimney kiln, the carbon stays in the drums so they are less harmful for the producer and the user. When cleaning out the drums, we pour the carbon back into the soil.”

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Picture of Kelvin Phiri

“The Forest and Farm Facility’s support is unique for Zambia,” says George Okech, the Food and Agriculture Organization Representative in Zambia. “This sustainable way of generating charcoal helps curb emissions and is good for the environment. This approach deserves to be scaled up to other provinces as well.”

Video: Sustainable charcoal, a burning issue