BULAWAYO, ZIMBABWE, June 14 (IPS) – Once a week, a tonnage of fresh charcoal is dropped off at the crashed Sibangani Tshobe stand by an old, rented and dented Bedford truck. Small makeshift carts – dubbed Scania – quickly haul small loads and disappear into Old Pumula, the oldest suburb of the country’s second largest city, Bulawayo.
Zimbabwe’s power outages have temporarily ceased, but higher electricity costs and an occasional cold snap still give Tshobe a chance to make a few bucks.
“I’m selling a bag of charcoal for $ 7 and it’s a good deal for me,” Tshobe told IPS, indicating a 50kg poly bag from other traders that is broken up into smaller packages than it sells for $ 1.
High electricity costs for cash-strapped Zimbabweans – the country has a poverty rate of just over 38 percent, according to the world Bank – means that the demand for firewood for cooking, lighting and heating has increased.
And so does the destruction of Zimbabwe’s fragile forests.
“With the high cost of electricity, what do we do? It’s a way to support my family. I realize that our business is to destroy trees, but we have to live, ”says Tshobe.
Cutting down forests for warmth
Each year Zimbabwe loses about 60 million trees – some 33,000 hectares of forest – through illegal deforestation, according to the Forestry Commission, a body mandated to protect state forests.
Charcoal making increases the loss of native forests and also increases land degradation, says Violet Makoto, spokesperson for the Forestry Commission.
“Charcoal is happening and is a worrying trend necessitated by the energy challenges facing the country. Yes, a few months ago we had a problem with lack of electricity, so charcoal was handy for cooking, especially in urban areas. Now in most areas electricity is available but out of reach of many due to the high tariffs, ”Makoto told IPS.
Charcoal – preferred for burning hotter and longer than wood – is made from oxygen-free firewood. The practice takes root in many parts of the country, dominated by native forest hardwoods such as mopane hardwood species (Copaifera mopane J), says Makoto.
Charcoal sold in urban centers is usually imported illegally from Mozambique and Zambia, where charcoal is traditionally produced. But this energy source is now produced in the district of Muzarabani, in the central province of Mashonaland, near the border with Mozambique, according to the Forestry Commission. The Midlands Province, West Mashonaland Province and North Matabeleland Province were also hot spots for charcoal production, Makoto says.
In North Matabeleland Province, charcoal production areas include the Hwange Coal Mine Concession, the Gwayi River Farms and resettlement villages along the Bubi-Nkayi border, says Armstone Tembo, chief forest steward of the Forestry Commission.
“We raided and confiscated the charcoal, but our problem is that we are aware that even if we confiscate the charcoal, people still go to these areas and cut more trees and produce charcoal. “, she says.
Last year, more than 30 people were arrested and fined for trading in charcoal, and 1.9 tons of charcoal were confiscated.
This year, more than 1,000 bags of charcoal were confiscated and 10 people arrested and charged with making and selling charcoal.
“We need a lasting solution that can completely eliminate charcoal making in the country. Perhaps developing new laws to directly address the problem of charcoal production in Zimbabwe would help.
According to Abednego Marufu, director general of the Forestry Commission, producing, marketing and even consuming charcoal is a crime, unless you buy charcoal made from exotic trees. Marufu says there was an exception for logging companies that harvested exotic tree species, such as acacia, for charcoal making.
Stricter laws for the culprits
The Forestry Commission is pushing for stricter laws to curb the practice, proposing a mandatory jail term, instead of fines, which do not prove dissuasive enough. Currently, anyone caught selling firewood and charcoal can be fined Level 7 for $ 59 or one year in prison.
“The level 7 fine for people in communal areas is enough of a deterrent, what we demand is enforcement and we are working with the Republic of Zimbabwe Police and Rural District Councils and the Agency management to curb this activity, ”Marufu said.
“We are looking at a mandatory prison sentence rather than optional fines so people can go to jail for three months. We think it will be painful enough for people to understand that environmental crimes are serious. “
However, tougher fines are not necessarily the answer to the problem, some activists note.
“The constant increase in electricity is not sustainable not only for poor and unemployed consumers, but also for businesses, as electricity is a key component of the domestic and domestic economy,” said IPS Effie Ncube, a civil rights activist. He adds that the high costs of electricity also push up the costs of basic goods and services.
Last September, the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC), the holding company of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA), increased its tariffs by 50%. These were increased by a further 30 percent in May. The increases were attributed to the high costs of importing electricity.
Soaring prices for basic groceries, food, fuel and energy are driving Zimbabweans into poverty, says Comfort Muchekeza, South Region official of the Zimbabwe Consumers Council, arguing that the government must restore economic production so that consumers can afford electricity.
“Energy is a really sensitive issue,” Machemedza told IPS over the phone. “It is high time for the government to propose alternative energy sources and invite other players in the energy sector. The cost of electricity today is beyond the reach of not only ordinary consumers, but even the middle class. Since September of last year we have seen more than three increases in electricity and it is worrying. “
Woodfuels represent a significant economic value in many countries, accounting for around $ 6 billion for Africa as a whole, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Over a billion dollars of this amount was made up of charcoal.
“Zimbabwe needs to invest in large-scale alternative energy sources like wind and solar so that people have access to affordable and clean energy at a time when firewood and charcoal are widely used. , but these have a serious environmental impact, ”explains Ncube.
© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service