The Kenyan government has clamped down on the production of charcoal, which it blames for environmental damage. A three-month ban on trading is in force in a number of counties. The Conversation Africa’s Moina Spooner spoke to Mary Njenga about the crackdown.
Why has the government clamped down on charcoal trading?
The government is concerned that charcoal production is leading to the destruction of Kenya’s environment.
Charcoal is made when wood is burned in a low oxygen environment and burns off compounds like water, a process that can take days. Some tree species, like Acacias, are preferred as their charcoal burns longer. But once these preferred tree species are all used up, producers will fell any tree. When trees are cut down, and the land is left bare, rain water runs off the surface eroding fertile topsoil. Groundwater supplies are also affected because tree or vegetation cover ensures water seeps into underground wells.
That said, there are some big misconceptions about the charcoal sector and its role in environmental damage. The production and use of charcoal is not a bad thing in itself. Trees are a form of renewable energy. Secondly, charcoal receives most of the blame for the loss of trees, but other factors – like the clearing of land for agriculture or pasture – are also to blame.
Kenya has imposed a charcoal ban before. The bans are largely based on the assumption that charcoal is acquired from government land. But most charcoal in Kenya is sourced from privately owned and managed land. This makes the bans ineffectual.
How is the ban being enforced and is it sustainable?
The measures include a ban on production and restrictions on transportation and trading. These are unlikely to resolve the problem and may create new ones. It’s important to get the approach to charcoal right because so many producers and users rely on it.
Wood energy has been used for millenia. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 62% of global charcoal production. In Kenya, the charcoal sector is worth about USD$427 million each year – almost the same size as the country’s tea sector. And about 80% of urban households depend on it for cooking.
Most people who produce charcoal live in drylands and do it as a source of income. Drylands make up over 80% of the land in Kenya. In some of these areas, about 50% of the households depend on charcoal as their main source of income.
The important issue is that, despite the high dependency on charcoal, existing regulations for a sustainable charcoal sector production are not being applied in a sustainable manner. The majority of producers don’t have tree replanting schemes. They also use wet wood in earth mould kilns to convert wood to charcoal. This produces a low conversion of wood to charcoal, meaning wood is wasted, land is degraded and air polluted.
Who is most affected by the crackdown?
The ban mostly affects the users – who are middle and low-income households, mostly in urban centres.
Charcoal prices have gone up by 27% in the past month. It now averages 107 shillings (about USD$1) for less than 2kg of charcoal. One person uses about 1.9kg of charcoal a day. When earning less than USD$2 a day, this means sacrifices have to be made.
If people can’t afford charcoal they turn to unsafe cooking methods, like burning plastic. This can have a huge negative impact on health as the most affected urban dwellings are usually small and poorly ventilated.
If the ban is successfully implemented will it have a significant impact on the environment?
No. Far too many people rely on the charcoal industry to rule it out, so it must be made sustainable. A number of reputable organisations in Kenya, such as the World Agroforestry Centre, Food and Agriculture Organisation and Kenya Forestry Research Institute, have demonstrated how charcoal can be produced efficiently and effectively.
The first stage of the supply chain is sustainable wood production. There are different methods of sustainable wood production including tree plantations and community managed woodlands. There is also tree inter-cropping where farmers grow trees alongside crops or in a separate woodlot. A rotation system can be used where trees are cut in a specific order or mature branches harvested, ensuring constant standing biomass. Farmers could also harvest some trees then let the area naturally regenerate, protecting young shoots from being eaten by livestock.
If dryland communities sustainably managed woodlands, charcoal that currently threatens these ecosystems would turn into a livelihood strategy. Unfortunately, these options have not been widely adopted – a factor that could be contributed by low government budgets in charcoal and firewood programmes.
The next stage is to use efficient kilns to convert wood to charcoal. In most places people use kilns that convert just 15% of the original wood weight into charcoal. Yet there’s a lot of research and development in kiln technologies – with some achieving over 30% conversion efficiency. One of the main reasons why these efficient kilns aren’t being used is a lack of awareness and cost. If charcoal production was effectively supported, it would inform producers on the benefits of better kilns and encourage them to invest.
And then there are markets. Central areas for collection and transport of larger quantities would reduce costs and emissions. This should be put into place by county governments.
Finally, it’s important to address the end use of charcoal. Households often use more charcoal than necessary, due to stoves which have low energy conversion efficiency – sometimes less than 15% . They need to use improved stoves, with over 35% energy conversion, to reduce household charcoal demand. Commercial enterprises that use charcoal should also follow suit.
The reasons these technologies haven’t been implemented is that Kenya, like other African countries, needs a perception shift. Government, researchers and the public need to understand that charcoal can be made sustainable. A pro-firewood and charcoal shift will see the development of technologies for sustainable wood-based energy in the country. Once we have that, the budgets will come through and it’ll be properly rolled out.
Uganda communications regulator and telecom companies are in discussions to decide the fate of airtime scratch cards ahead of their impending ban, which comes into effect on June 30.
The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), in a notice in March, banned the sale of airtime through scratch cards. The ban followed a spate of murders and kidnappings that the regulator blamed on unregistered Sim cards and open sale of airtime.
MTN chief marketing officer Olivier Prentout said on Monday they will comply with the directive to phase out the paper scratch cards by the June deadline. MTN said they would instead be selling airtime through electronic means such as mobile money and online dealers.
“It is a directive issued by UCC to phase out scratch cards which I believe is a good thing because nobody will be littering pieces of scratch cards,” he said. However, Mr Prentout could not provide nominal figures of the plausible gain or loss to the telecom ahead of the ban.
Earlier, he had said a number of telecoms still had scratch cards some which were in transit at the time of the ban. He, however, said that not much would be lost by MTN given that most stock ups had arrived after the announcement of the ban.
Open sale of airtime
Mr Prentout indicated that telecoms were still in negotiations to see how they will handle scratch cards that are still in circulation after the June 30 deadline.
“This is not completely addressed to date with the regulator [UCC]. I believe it will be phased out periodically. It is still under discussion but I presume they will give it some time to phase out,” he said.
Ms Annie Tabura, the MTN sales and distribution general manager, said electronic airtime will give agents an opportunity to expand their commission income, which unlike scratch cards is much higher. For selling an airtime scratch card of UShs10,000 (USD2.69) an agent is entitled to about UShs300 (USD0.080) in commission.
In an email last week, Airtel informed agents that it was realigning commission for online airtime dealers to match mobile money and e-airtime dealers, among others.
For instance, the email indicated, the commission for distributors would drop from seven per cent to five per cent, while retailers would get four per cent down from six per cent on an airtime transaction.
Ms Faith Bugonzi, the Airtel public relations officer, Tuesday told the Daily Monitor in a phone interview that they had been encouraging dealers to sell airtime through mobile money ahead of the deadline.
“We are still talking to the regulator [UCC]. There will be several meetings to check what we still have in stock,” she said in reaction to what amount of airtime the company still had in stock.
The Monitor could not get a comment from UCC as Mr Godfrey Mutabazi, the regulator’s executive director, was held up in a meeting.
In March notice banning the sale of airtime scratch cards among other mobile phone related items, UCC had argued that they were being used by criminals to terrorise Ugandans.
The ban followed the murder of Susan Magara, who had been kidnapped for almost 27 days. UCC claimed that criminals were using a lax in the registration of Sim cards and the open selling of airtime to propagate crime.
A number of Uganda are employed as telecom agents to sell airtime across the country. Many of them have, however, moved to selling airtime through electronic means such as mobile money.
UCC also banned the sale of Sim cards, which has since been lifted, after the regulator announced that government had secured machines that telecoms will use to identify fake national IDs used for registration..
Source: Daily Monitor Uganda Uganda
Health authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo confirmed a case of Ebola in Mbandaka, a city in the northwest of the country that’s home to about 1 million people.
The person carrying the viral disease was one of two suspected cases in Mbandaka that were tested, Health Minister Oly Ilunga said in a statement emailed Wednesday from the capital, Kinshasa. Prior to the confirmation of the latest case, only two other people had tested positive for the disease near the remote town of Bikoro, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Mbandaka by road.
“We are entering a new phase of the Ebola epidemic,” which now “includes one urban health zone,” Ilunga said.
Congo confirmed the latest outbreak of Ebola on May 8, the ninth occurrence of the disease in the central African nation since it was first discovered there in 1976. The Health Ministry reported 42 suspected cases of Ebola on May 15. Of the 20 people considered probable carriers, 18 have died.
Mbandaka is situated on the Congo River, which links the area to the capital, Kinshasa, a city of about 12 million, and Brazzaville, the capital of neighboring Republic of Congo. The other towns of Equateur province, both upstream and downstream, have been “placed under surveillance,” according to Ilunga.
“A major urban outbreak” in Mbandaka is “an immediate risk,” Peter Salama, the World Health Organization’s deputy director-general for emergency response, said on May 11. “Once Ebola gets into urban areas, especially poor urban slums, it’s very difficult to get rid of the disease.”
The Health Ministry on Wednesday received an air consignment of thousands of doses of an unlicensed VSV-EBOV vaccine dispatched by the WHO from Geneva. The treatment was trialled successfully in Guinea during a major outbreak in West African that killed more than 11,000 people between 2014 and 2016. Congo’s government authorized the use of the vaccine last week.
The doses are being stored in Kinshasa until authorities are sure the vaccine can be transported to Mbandaka and Bikoro -- and kept there -- at a sufficiently low temperature. Electricity supply in the region is unreliable.
The ministry and its partners plan to launch a targeted program to vaccinate individuals, including health workers, who have been in contact, directly and indirectly, with patients confirmed to be infected with Ebola. So far, more than 500 people have been identified.
“Changing our behaviors, even our deepest values and traditions” will be required to stamp out the epidemic, Ilunga said, urging the population in affected areas not to touch sick people or wash the bodies of the deceased.