The country’s forests are under immense pressure from charcoal and fuel wood production and consumption.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, is endowed with extensive grasslands, wetlands, wildlife, and tropical forests. Its natural assets include significant agricultural, mineral, timber, and energy resources.
But despite having one of Africa’s lowest population densities, less than 13 people per square kilometre, the landlocked Central East African country’s forests remain under immense pressure from charcoal and fuelwood production and consumption.
Jebel Lado County, north of the capital Juba, is home to the Dinka, Lokoya, and Bari ethnic communities, among others. The area, located a 45-minute drive from the capital, is adorned with a woodland savannah landscape in which sorghum farming and livestock production have traditionally thrived.
However, insecurity in the area forced many locals to abandon their crop fields in fear of having their produce stolen. They shifted to charcoal production instead as their main source of income.
A 2015 survey carried out jointly by UN Environment and the Government of South Sudan estimated that, in the capital Juba, 88 per cent of households, 74 per cent of businesses, and 40 per cent of institutions depend on charcoal energy. Furthermore, 15 per cent of households, 8 per cent of businesses, and 40 per cent of institutions use fuelwood to supplement charcoal for cooking. This demand translates into an estimated five million trees being logged annually to supply Juba with charcoal it currently consumes.
According to the country’s inaugural State of the Environment Outlook Report, launched in June 2018, fuelwood and charcoal account for over 80 per cent of all wood used in South Sudan, with an annual deforestation rate estimated at between 1.5 and 2 per cent.
“Until that is achieved, there is enormous pressure on natural resources, especially on the forests, as over 99 percent of the population of South Sudan depends on forests as their source of energy – fuel wood and charcoal, and timber for construction and furniture,” writes President Salva Kiir Mayardit in the report’s foreword.
On-going conflict further prevents sustainable development and management of forest resources, jeopardizing the future of entire communities.
Given forestry’s importance in meeting South Sudan’s energy and construction needs in the near term, and possibly in generating foreign income in the longer term, the environment report recommends promotion of agroforestry to improve soil fertility in the short-term and to increase fodder, timber, and fruit production in the long-term.
It also recommends that to minimize environmental damage, the government should engage regional centres of expertise to design sustainable charcoal production, as South Sudan migrates to a more diversified energy supply which includes alternatives such as improved wood stoves, solar panels, solar cookers, gas, and electricity. In its current form, charcoal production is highly inefficient – as little as 10-20 per cent of the wood used in traditional charcoal making is marketable as charcoal, while the rest is often wasted in the process.
However, local consumption is not the only threat, as rapid urbanisation and demand from neighbouring countries, including Sudan, Uganda, and the Middle East, also drive the market for charcoal.
Cognizant of the harm posed to the country’s forests by charcoal trade, South Sudan’s Ministry of Trade and Environment announced a restriction on wood charcoal exports in July 2018.
“This order further directs all trade officers deployed at various border stations and checkpoints all over the Republic of South Sudan, security organs, national economic intelligence officers, and anti-smuggling units in the Ministry of Interior to ensure that this order is implemented across South Sudan,” said the directive issued by Trade Minister Dr. Moses Hassan Tiel.
This is the latest step by the government to reverse, or minimize, environmental degradation in the country. It also follows a related order, issued by the Ministry of Environment in May 2015, which banned illegal logging and export of logs and charcoal.
“We remain committed to working with the Government of South Sudan, the private sector, and civil society, to ensure the country’s sustainable development into the future through promotion of sound environmental governance,” said UN Environment South Sudan Country Manager Arshad Khan.
UN Environment, the leading global environmental authority that sets the environmental agenda, has been active in South Sudan since independence, creating and developing environmental awareness on a national scale to support the government and the people of South Sudan. The 2018 State of the Environment Outlook Report is the result of a study jointly undertaken by UN Environment and South Sudan’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
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