Charcoal and deforestation
A case study of Puntland, Somalia
As in most other countries in Africa, wood is the main energy source in Somalia, either directly as firewood, or indirectly in the form of charcoal. In the urban areas of Puntland charcoal is the principal fuel for cooking, whereas firewood is normally used by the rural nomadic families.
In the Puntland State of Somalia, a high rate of deforestation is a result not only of local use of wood-based fuels. A high demand for charcoal in the Gulf States has triggered a massive export of this commodity to those countries. In most of the southern regions of Somalia, charcoal has also become a major source of income for certain warlords and Al-Shabab, who use the charcoal industry to help fund their cause. All of a sudden, charcoal became a lucrative business and the biggest hard currency generating commodity of this civil war-stricken country.
The issue has already received some attention by the Puntland government, inspiring it to create programmes that would, for instance, enhance the efficiency of cooking stoves and encourage consumers to switch to alternative fuels, such as kerosene and liquid petroleum gas (LPG). However, there have been hardly any academic studies carried out to address charcoal-related problems in Puntland.
This report is an attempt to outline the current situation in the charcoal manufacturing, trade and use in Puntland and to relate it to the management of tree and forest resources of the state. It is based on a field study conducted in four major urban centres in Puntland by the first author.
Charcoal consumption in Puntland
The four main urban centres of Puntland are Garowe, Burtinle, Bosaso and Galkayo, with populations of 95,000; 9,000; 47,000; 400,000 and 140,000 respectively. As a first step of our field study the per capita charcoal consumption in these towns was estimated. From these estimates, the total charcoal consumption of Puntland was derived. Then it was converted to a forest area equivalent, so as to obtain a measure of the deforestation rate.
In an attempt to update previous data and to obtain more reliable figures for the whole state, a rapid assessment of the four towns was conducted. These towns have different population sizes, varying proximities to forested areas and they are believed to be good representatives of other urban areas in Puntland.
Between June and July 2015, a total of 181 households, with varying income levels, were interviewed in the four towns, following a predetermined sampling pattern. Since an additional aim was to analyse the charcoal trade, information was also collected on charcoal vendors, charcoal prices, and preferences for alternative energy sources.
Charcoal kiln efficiency was calculated from the ratio between the amount of charcoal produced and that of the wood used as raw material in the study area; it was found to be about 20%. For converting the amount of charcoal produced to forest area equivalents, an equation developed by Tuyeni Heita Mwampamba was used: it has the amount of charcoal produced, the kiln efficiency and the forest stand density as independent variables and includes a coefficient for calculating the proportion of the biomass utilized from the total biomass of trees that are harvested.
Our results show that in the four urban centres surveyed, the mean per capita consumption varied between 2.7 and 4 sacks (each estimated to have a weight of 23.3 kg) per person per year. This corresponds to 63 kg per person and year in Garowe, which had the lowest consumption, and about 93 kg per person and year for the other three towns. The average for the whole population studied was 84 kg per person annually. The average price for the four towns was found to be USD 21 per sack. The four towns showed considerable variation in charcoal prices; in Galkayo and Burtinle residents paid prices as low as USD 17/sack, while in Bosaso the price could be as high as USD 25/sack.
The total forest area needed for satisfying the annual charcoal consumption in the four towns now studied was estimated as 480 ha. If we assume that 35% of the population of Puntland lives in urban areas, the charcoal consumption of all such areas combined would correspond to an annual harvested area of 830 ha. Furthermore, if we assume that 95% of the entire Puntland population relies on charcoal in one way or another, the total forest area cleared every year for energy needs in Puntland would be 2,400 ha.
Wood energy and deforestation
In our study, Garowe showed the lowest charcoal consumption out of the four urban centres studied, 63 kg per person and year, as indicated above. The consumption disparity between Garowe and the other surveyed towns was significant and renders further studies on factors determining the charcoal use in Puntland (and Somalia as a whole) important.
Piling up the cut into size of an acacia tree.
The four towns now studied also showed variation in the price paid per a sack of charcoal. Price differences can be partly explained by closeness to forests, but this factor cannot be behind the high consumption levels observed in Galkayo, Burtinle and Bosaso and the low one found in Garowe. Galkayo straddles the border between Puntland and the Galmudug federal administration area and enjoys the lowest price of charcoal, while Bosaso, situated on the Red Sea, bears the brunt of high price. This difference can be explained by the fact that Galkayo and Burtinle are closer to the pockets of forests left between Galkayo and Buhodle towns.
Charcoal trade and consumption are complex issues. The outright ban on charcoal trade by the Puntland state administration has further exacerbated the situation. Compared to the income of families of the towns now surveyed, the price of charcoal is extremely high. More than USD 55 million is being spent by households in these towns every year. Our comparison between per capita charcoal consumption and household size revealed that larger households are inclined towards lower per capita consumption levels. This trend was observed in all four towns now studied; it has also been found in other eastern African countries.
Since there are no accurate data on Puntland’s forest cover, and since many other factors apart from the woodfuel consumption have to be considered, it is not possible to estimate the full impact of the charcoal consumption on forest and tree resources in Puntland. For comparison, it has been estimated that in Tanzania, charcoal consumption is responsible for anything between 20 and 60 % of the annual deforestation rate. Charcoal export, the problem peculiar for Puntland, adds to the complexity of the issue and is urgently awaiting studies that could contribute to policy and management improvements.
Towards new management of forest and tree resources
The export of charcoal from Somalia is an important source of revenue for many stakeholders. In the southern part of Somalia, desertification has proceeded at an alarming rate mainly because of the charcoal trade and the export of this commodity to the Gulf States. Commercial charcoal manufacturing for export purposes, and subsequent deforestation has exacerbated the already strained environmental situation in southern Somalia and even forced nomadic pastoralists off their grazing lands (trees are an essential fodder source for livestock in the dry season).
Acacia nilotica trees set fire at the base to kill it quickly.
Our survey, the first of its kind in Puntland and Somalia since the start of the civil war and state collapse in 1991, confirms that the market for charcoal is huge even if only the domestic needs are considered. Puntland must adopt sustainable management of its forest and tree resources, but that cannot be achieved without reliable data on wood energy production and consumption. For improved policy and management, guidelines and recommendations must be developed for sustainable woodfuel production from natural and managed trees, as well as on charcoal production technology and cooking stove design.
Improved policies should make a distinction between reserved forests and public (communal) land, and also between different potential managers of forest and tree resources, including the central, state and local government; communities and their organisations; and private individuals and enterprises willing to sustainably manage trees for the common good. The development of forest and tree resources should be tightly linked to livestock management and also to soil and water conservation activities. The whole concept of range management, implicitly also covering the pasture lands and their nomadic people, seems to suit the conditions in Puntland and elsewhere in Somalia extremely well.
In the Horn of Africa region there are already policies and management practices in place that contribute to improved household energy provision while ensuring more sustainable management of the tree and forest resources. Agroforestry, and specifically for Somalia, its forms grouped as silvo-pastoral or agro-silvo-pastoral land use systems, offers a whole set of approaches. However, the ultimate solutions for woodfuel economy in Puntland must be based on the local specific conditions and needs. For this to happen, more research is needed, but fortunately, there are international organisations (such as the World Agroforestry Centre ICRAF) which already are involved in this work in such neighbouring countries as Kenya and Ethiopia.
The Finnish Somalia Network and its two projects in Somalia, Sahansaho and Ramaad, offer an excellent basis for new national and international initiatives that also can contribute to better and more sustainable household energy provision for Puntland. In these integrated and participatory projects special attention is paid to restoration of the woody vegetation, utilizing both the regeneration potential of the natural vegetation as well as planting of trees. It is already well established that dryland forests are not particularly difficult to put under silvicultural management; on the contrary, they offer many advantages that are lacking from the forests of humid tropical regions, as discussed earlier in this journal.
Conclusions and recommendations
The present study shows that to date, woodfuels in Puntland are derived exclusively from natural trees and forests. The kiln efficiency in converting wood to charcoal was low, only amounting to 20%. The government must support the management and the expansion of tree resources, and this should include all potential actors, from government and community organisations to private individuals or enterprises. Even if the range of potential models for charcoal production is wide and can involve simultaneously different kinds of actors, this economic activity is possible only under clearly defined land use rights and only with enabling policies for charcoal processing and trade. The present situation in Somalia where much of the charcoal trade is uncontrolled – and uncontrollable – makes a reform of the current practices especially challenging.
Acacia spp trees piled up in a mound kiln fashion.
Cooperatives formed by rural households adjacent to woodlands, but who do not have other reliable sources of income, should be increasingly supported in charcoal making activities. Potentially, in the current socioeconomic situation, charcoal production and marketing can be a major employer as far as the number of people involved in production, transportation, distribution and retailing in Puntland is concerned. After establishing community-based charcoal cooperatives some of the revenue generated should be allocated to forest regeneration and development of more efficient kilns and cooking stoves.
Attempts have already been made in Puntland to promote alternative sources of domestic energy using LPG, solar devices, kerosene, or more efficient wood or charcoal stoves. Over 70% of the respondents of the present study preferred LPG as an alternative to charcoal. However, prices of these alternatives must be affordable for low-income households before they can be adopted. Policies of the government and other actors such as NGOs ought to be harmonized so as to better use the available human and material resources; this is also needed in research and development work. Most urgently, there should be an appropriate government policy and a conducive legislation in place, to allow necessary action to be taken at all levels of society.
Abdiqani Farah and Olavi Luukkanen
Abdiqani Farah did his PhD (biochemistry and molecular biology) at the University of Glasgow. He is currently Head of the Faculty of Sciences (Environmental & Medical Sciences Departments) and Coordinator of a two-year programme on Environmental Sciences Diploma jointly implemented by the East Africa University (Garowe branch) and CARE. He is also Chair of examination of the World Bank functional review programme. His work focuses on environmental toxicological assessment, bioassays for predicting ecological and human health impacts (water, air and food chain), toxicogenomics and environmental policies at global, regional and governmental levels.
abdiqanidalaaan (at) hotmail.com
Olavi Luukkanen is professor emeritus in tropical silviculture. He works at the Viikki Tropical Resources Institute (VITRI) of the University of Helsinki. For more than 30 years he has been active in teaching, research and development work related to tropical forests, mainly in eastern Africa and Southeast Asia. Much of his professional work is related to rehabilitation of degraded natural or man-made tropical production systems and especially to using agroforestry as a management tool. His international assignments include the international team leadership of a project that produced a national forest programme for Kenya in 1994; he was also a member of the Board of Trustees of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in 2009−2015. Since 2014 he has been the national forestry advisor to the federal Ministry of Livestock, Forestry and Range in Somalia, and since 2015, a distinguished senior fellow at ICRAF with special tasks in the Horn of Africa region.
olavi.luukkanen (at) helsinki.fi
Photos: Mohamed Ali Shanle
The Economist (2014). A charred harvest. The unlikely link between Gulf lounges and Somalia’s jihadists. October 11th, 2014.
Luukkanen, Olavi (2011). Maankäytön vaihtoehdot Afrikan kuivilla alueilla: Mitä voidaan oppia kokemuksista Sudanissa? [Land-use alternatives on drylands in Africa: What can we learn from experiences in Sudan?]. Afrikan Sarvi 1/2011.
Masoud, Rashid S. (1991). Fuelwood use in Zanzibar Town. In: Paula J. Williams (ed.), Zanzibar Forestry Development Project Technical Paper No. 3.
Mwampamba, Tuyeni Heita (2007). Has the woodfuel crisis returned? Urban charcoal consumption in Tanzania and its implications topresent and future forest availability. Energy Policy 35: 4221–4234.