Monday, September 28, 2009

My husband grew up in Malawi and always wanted to come back to live here again. When we came back in 2003 he had been gone for 15 years. The first thing he noticed upon his return was how so many trees had been cut down. We live very close to Zomba Mountain, one of the most beautiful places in Malawi. In the six years we have been here I have seen it go from lush, jungle like forest, to something that looks like a plucked chicken. One of the reasons for such rapid deforestation is the making of charcoal.

I found this story on BBC Africa and it describes how Africa’s charcoal burning problem contributing to the global warming. Andrew Simms from the New Economics Foundation explains that “Global warming means that many dry areas are going to get drier and wet areas are going to get wetter." That means that the African dry countries like Kenya, Botswana, Namibia, and more, will get even drier. Most of the people on this continent depend on their gardens for the supply of food for their families. Famine will be even more so common. It is estimated that by the end of this century 182 million people in Africa will die as a consequence of climate change.

Right now Africa losses it’s forest twice as fast as the rest of the world. “Once upon a time, Africa boasted seven million square kilometers of forest but a third of that has been lost - most of it to charcoal.” “Uganda has lost half of it’s forest in the last 30 years. One of the main reasons for such a decrease of forested area is the mass production of charcoal that is used for cooking.” People are producing it as a way to make a little extra money. In Uganda it is reported that the charcoal business “yields 20,000 jobs and generates more $20 million in income every year. In Kenya it is 10 times that figure.” About 20,000 bags of charcoal enter the Tanzanian capital Dar-es-Salaam every 24 hours.

Another reason for such rapid deforestation is that only 7.5% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population has access to electricity. Wood and charcoal are the only sources of energy and if something does not change, it may stay that way for ages. Some people are trying to find alternative methods of producing energy. “To the west of Nairobi, Cheryl Mvula of the Tribal Voice consultancy has introduced the extraordinary Cow Dung Fuel Initiative to counter deforestation in the Mara Triangle of Kenya's Masai Mara.” This fuel is made of the cow dung mixed with waste paper and water and shaped into briquettes. “Since the project's inception in March 2009, firewood collection has reduced by 75% in the five villages where the scheme has been piloted.” Other people are trying to use alternate sources of fuel like sawdust, corn cobs, and even banana peel for their fires.

African leaders need to pay closer attention to what is happening to the forest and encourage people to replant the trees they cut down. It is sad when you see a tree cut down but when it is also a fruit tree it takes away the food source as well. If an effective solution is not implemented soon, Africa faces a bleak future indeed!

1 comment:

  1. I didn't realize charcoal was a major export. I was shocked to hear the number of bags of charcoal that are produced in a 24 hour period. It alarms me with the rate of forest that is being lost. One would think that simple conservation would be able to tell a person to plant a tree in the place of one being cut down. It also scares me the famine problem will continue to get worse. I wonder, what can the world to solve the problems in Africa.

    Well written blog.