Zimbabweans decimate forests for charcoal


Charcoal is made by chopping down trees and burning piles of wood.

IN Zimbabwe, trade in charcoal made from hardwood is banned.

But there is a boom in charcoal sales across the country’s urban areas, which soars during winter.

This has meant that the southern African nation’s last pockets of forest are being decimated to satisfy demand for cheaper fuel by urbanites.

Charcoal is made by chopping down trees and burning piles of wood.

The stacks are first covered with sand before being set alight to limit the amount of air and oxygen inside.

The charcoal can alternatively be made by heating tree stumps in kilns at controlled temperatures.

Charcoal became popular in many urban homes and weekend outdoor joints following electricity shortages that have affected the country in the past decade.

Dwindling water levels in Lake Kariba have worsened the situation.

While charcoal may have brought some relief to urban dwellers, rural areas are fast turning into deserts due to deforestation.

Government agencies, such as the Forestry Commission, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) and the Ministry of Water, Environment and Climate are failing to stem the crisis.

Charcoal production is banned under section 65 of the Forestry Act.

According to the World Agroforestry Centre, trees and forests are vital for regulating the climate since they absorb carbon dioxide.

Trees, which contain an estimated 50 percent more carbon than the atmosphere, act as carbon sink by absorbing much of the carbon that is released into the atmosphere.

Deforestation alone contributes more than 20 percent of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, rivalling greenhouse gas emissions from other sources.

In addition to their centrality in this complex environmental matrix, trees provide a range of products and services to rural and urban populations, including food, timber, fibre, medicines and energy, as well as soil fertility, water and biodiversity conservation.

Yet, despite this role, charcoal traders continue to plunder forests.

Big forests lie in Zimbabwe’s driest regions such as Lupane, Gwanda, Hwange and Mudzi.

The Mopani is one of those targeted due to its good charcoal.

Water, Environment and Climate Minister, Oppah Muchinguri, said government has always enforced the law in respect of the ban on charcoal production.

“We are appealing to anyone with information on who is producing charcoal so that we can get them arrested,” she said.

She added; “We have carried out our investigations as a ministry and realised that most of it is being imported from Zambia and Mozambique. It is illegal to produce charcoal in this country and we are eager to arrest anyone who could be manufacturing it within the country”.

There have been reports that some charcoal on the local market is being produced in Lupane, Gwanda and Mudzi, some of the country’s driest places rich in Mopane trees.

Charcoal traders are enjoying brisk business at Mbare Musika as demand rises due to the current cold season.

They said they were getting most of their charcoal from Lupane.

“This charcoal is locally made. We get it from suppliers based in Lupane and Hwange. We hear that others import, but we do not import,” said one trader only identified as Matthew.

The traders are selling a 50kg bag of charcoal for US$15.

Smaller packs are also available for as little as US$1.

Forestry Commission’s information and communications manager, Violet Chikoto, said the law only banned charcoaling of indigenous trees.

She said producers were free to make charcoal from exotic woodlands.

“The wattle tree for example is grown for its bark and the rest of it becomes useless, so those can be used to make charcoal,” she said.

But when told that even the indigenous trees were being destroyed for commercial charcoal, she said: “We need to understand which species of trees are being targeted first. If it’s the indigenous trees, then we can enforce the law”.

Chikoto said they always endeavoured to create awareness on the need to preserve forests.

“We try to raise awareness in affected areas and we carry out raids in the same manner that we do to control firewood trade,” she said.

Zimbabwe is one of 13 African countries that will face water scarcity by 2025, according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa, partly because of human activities such as deforestation, overgrazing or crowding around watering points and other inappropriate land use practices.

East Africa will be the most affected, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

In east Africa, massive overgrazing and uncontrolled harvesting of trees to make charcoal have led to environmental degradation.

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