How charcoal ban could work in the absence viable alternative?

21Mar 2017
Gerald Kitabu
The Guardian
How charcoal ban could work in the absence viable alternative?

Charcoal consumers, traders and forest experts in the country have opposed government’s directive that prohibits transportation of charcoal from one district to another saying it is difficult to implement it due to lack of affordable alternative source of energy.

Ward councilors from Morogoro district, government officials and other stakeholders admiring sustainable charcoal production at Ulaya Mbuyuni village, Kilosa district, Morogoro region recently.

A survey conducted by the Guardian in Dar es Salaam, Coast and Morogoro regions on the charcoal ban, has found that the government’s directive cannot work due to high demand of charcoal in big cities like Dar es Salaam and if forced, it will only fuel illegal charcoal transportation at night and corruption at check points.

On March 1, 2017, the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Prof Jumanne Maghembe, banned transportation of charcoal from one district to another to combat what he described as deforestation in the country.

Ordinary citizens who entirely depend on charcoal, stakeholders and other experts said banning of a commodity that is fundamental to people’s daily lives without providing a viable alternative would not work.

Mwanaidi Abdallah and Musa Mgwaya, residents of Temeke and Mbagala respectively, said the directive would be difficult to implement because electricity and gas are very costly, not reliable and not friendly to many poor people including those living in grass thatched houses in urban and rural areas.

Mwanaidi said life is so difficult such that many poor people are struggling to get even 5,000/-, adding that obviously these people will not go for electricity or gas which are very expensive to afford.

“For us food vendors here in Temeke, we entirely depend on charcoal and we buy it at 500/- or 1,000/- per tin but there are many women who cannot afford this price. Do you think they will afford the gas and electricity?” she asked.

Musa Mgwaya said that difficult life has forced some women who cannot afford a tin of charcoal of 1,000/- to opt collecting coconut shells and other wastes such as plastics remains from different dumping sites to use them at home and prepare food for their customers.

“The government doesn’t know that this ban will affect women most because some of them are bread winners. They need affordable energy to do small businesses, pay school fees for their children, pay house rent, water and electricity bills, cook food, and boil water for their family,” he said.

“I am not against the government’s directive but people should be given education on how to use charcoal sustainably and provide alternative source of energy which is friendly to our forests before implementation of this directive,” he added.

For their part, sustainable charcoal traders from Kilosa district in Morogoro region, Mariam Salmaa and Aisha Kibayasi who ferry charcoal to Dar es Salaam described the government’s directive as a big blow to them and their project, which, in recent years, has received support of many stakeholders, including the foresters.

They said sustainable charcoal production is a pro-poor and climate resilent aimed at transforming the economics and governance of charcoal and other forest product value chains in the villages that would benefit and the district as a whole.

“Before, we were trained on sustainable charcoal production. In the village we are operating, the villagers have built village offices, doctors’ houses, joined National Health Insurance Fund, rehabilitated health centres and conducted land use plan,” said Mariam.

Associate Research Professor, Dr. Tuyeni Heita Mwampamba, from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said although the decision by the government to ban the movement of charcoal across districts in order to curb deforestation rates is laudable, it is unlikely to be effective and could fuel illegal charcoal instead of addressing the real issues around the impact of charcoal production on forests in Tanzania.

Mwampamba, who is an expert on the impact of charcoal on forests and whose research involves finding ways to produce charcoal sustainably, said that banning of a commodity that is fundamental to people’s daily lives without providing a viable alternative rarely works.

In fact, a ban could backfire on its intended objective by temporarily exacerbating deforestation through the price increase of charcoal that often associates bans.

“Banning the free flow of charcoal between and across districts assumes that each district is capable of satisfying its own demand, which is impossible in cities such as Dar es Salaam, Arusha, Mwanza and many others,” she said.

Charcoal is an essential commodity similar to rice, maize and beans yet, we do not expect districts to be self-sufficient in its food production. The free flow of maize and rice across districts is essential for the economy; charcoal is no different.”
We also often forget that the cultivation of food crops in Tanzania also contributes to deforestation, yet I have never heard of a ban preventing food from reaching its customers.”

As long as the prices of gas and electricity remain prohibitive, most of us will continue to be charcoal consumers. The focus of the government should be in enabling the forest sector to provide us with sustainable charcoal that doesn’t destroy our forests,” she said.

According to Mwampamba, there need to train energy and resources producers in more sustainable practices and restructuring the forest sector so that it is in a position to serve forest-owning communities to produce charcoal sustainably.

This requires injecting resources into rural areas, helping communities own and manage their forests sustainably, build capacity to convert wood into charcoal and facilitate their participation in the complete value chain so that producers can benefit more.

Trade bans, she said, whether on charcoal, wildlife or other products, have been repeatedly shown not to work unless a lot effort is in place on policing and enforcement.

Bans often have the opposite effect than that intended by the ban because they inflate prices and make it more profitable to trade.

The high profit margins of dealing in banned goods encourages a black market which can worsen the situation for forests: traders are willing to pay producers more if their profit margin is higher, producers increase their efforts to produce charcoal to take advantage of better prices.

She advised the government to address the forest impact of charcoal by putting in place a wider policy on biomass energy and undertaking plans that incorporate sustainable charcoal production as a fundamental objective for energy and forestry sectors.

“The fact that we have forests and charcoal producers and reliable consumers of charcoal should be seen as an opportunity to improve livelihoods while meeting the energy needs of more than 80 percent of urban households and restaurants,” she said.
She said the ban has a number of effects, including:

Effects on the forests
There might be a temporary relief, but things could backfire with a surge in deforestation due to increase in the price of charcoal due to the ban.

Effects on consumers
Life will be difficult. Consumers will look for ways to decrease their consumption and some might have to minimize cooking to once a day or prioritize what they cook. If people decide not to prioritize boiling water, they will risk getting water-borne diseases. The charcoal ban can easily have health effects on the poorest households.

Effects to petty traders
The sale of charcoal employs hundreds of thousands of petty traders across the country. Difficulty in accessing charcoal will decrease their sales.

Effects on the economy
Transporting charcoal requires a number of levies to be paid to the government; which will now not be collected. More importantly, is the lost opportunity of collecting taxes from charcoal transport and sales when charcoal is banned and a black market thrive.

The charcoal sector’s contribution to the economy is many times larger than that of tea and other agricultural products, but because most production, transport and sales is illegal, the government loses 95 percent of the revenue that could be collected. Formalizing the sector could benefit the economy substantially.

Dr Mwampamba said the government should lift the ban and should instead target its interest in curbing deforestation in Tanzania with renewed efforts to enable the Tanzania Forest Service Agency to help communities and the private sector produce charcoal sustainably and manage forests sustainably.

Mwampamba advised that the primary mission of the Tanzania Forest Service Agency should be to provide forestry services (skills, knowledge, capacity, programs) to the private and public forestry sector.

Its current role as a revenue collector from forest products jeopardizes its ability to perform its service-providing duties and sends mixed messages to forest owners that result in mistrust of the agency’s objectives.

The Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Industries, Trade and Environment, Dr Dalay Kafumu said the banning of charcoal without giving people and other stakeholders enough grace period would not yield desired results.

“To my view, the minister responsible should have given people a grace period of let’s say one year before going on implementing this plan otherwise it might fail because many people depend on charcoal,” he said.

Commenting on sustainable charcoal production which is carried out in Kilosa district, Morogoro region, Kafumu said the project has successfully demonstrated to be friendly to the environment, adding that it should be allowed and replicated in other areas.

The Chief Executive Officer for Tanzania Forest Service Agency (TFS), Prof Dos Santos Silayo said the government issued a four-month ultimatum from March 01, 2017 until June 30 for people and charcoal traders to prepare themselves before enforcing the ban.

He said under the new directive, there shall be no new or renewal of charcoal license to protect the forests which in recent years is being exported to other countries despite the government ban.

Citing an example, he said that export of charcoal is completely banned but Kilwa district in Lindi region alone, had more than 16 illegal ports used to transport charcoal and other goods outside the country.

“The aim of the minister’s directive is good as it creates scarcity so that people can shift from using charcoal to other alternative sources of energy to protect our forests,” he said.