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Charcoal sector poses regulatory challenge for Kenya

Sustainable tree harvesting and efficient kilns would spur change
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Lighting an improved cooking stove in Kibera, Nairobi. CIFOR/Axel Fassio

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Demand for charcoal and firewood in Kenya is set to increase, while deforestation continues, pointing to an urgent need for improved governance, write scientists in The Conversation Africa.

Charcoal provides more than 70 percent of domestic energy demand for cooking and heating in Kenya, making a significant contribution to the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people in rural areas.

Over the past 20 years, Kenya has introduced laws and policies in an effort to bring the sector into the formal economy and reduce its environmental impact.

In a review of regulations governing Kenya’s wood fuel sector, scientists Phosiso Sola and Paolo Cerutti with the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), identified bottlenecks and demonstrated how it could become more environmentally friendly while continuing to support livelihoods.

They revealed that there was limited coordination and cooperation between various parties managing the sector, and that counties have limited capacity to deliver on all the devolved functions and responsibilities.

Charcoal is produced in kilns by burning wood while limiting the supply of oxygen through a process known as carbonization. Most of this production occurs in forest rich rural areas. The charcoal is then transported to urban centers where it is sold.

However, most kilns used in Kenya – and Africa in general – are very inefficient. Almost 10 tonnes of wood are used to produce a tonne of charcoal, which is a 10 percent recovery rate, according to the scientists. Improved techniques and kilns are being developed.

In 2018, the government imposed a ban on logging and timber harvesting, which is due to end this year. It ultimately prohibited production or transportation of charcoal in Kenya.

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This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.
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