Finding a balance between forest conservation and energy needs
If you stand on the side of the various highways that head into Kigali city, or simply stay near Nyabugogo, you quickly realise just how many charcoal-laden trucks enter the city, attempting to satisfy Kigali’s craving for cooking fuel. Charcoal is not only transported to Kigali but it is also sent to other urban areas in the country.
Although some people who spoke to The New Times said the best quality of charcoal is imported from Tanzania, its relatively high price Rwf 10,000 (per sack) is much more expensive than locally produced variety.
It was not really easy for the writer to determine where each lorry was coming from. However, a mini survey carried out indicated that most of the locally produced charcoal is from Gicumbi and Nyamagabe districts, “We get charcoal from different districts but the most outstanding, without considering that imported from Tanzania, is from Byumba, (Gicumbi)” said Albert Munezero, a truck driver in the charcoal transportation business.
It, therefore, goes without saying that charcoal burning is, among other economic activities such as farming, the most lucrative businesses in the districts. But while some people in the area are earning money from the activity, these areas are also some of the most deforested places in the country.
Munezero explained that although charcoal producers there try, as much as possible, to satisfy the demand for charcoal, the country’s demand far outstrips its available supply. He pointed out that some traders go as far as paying in advance to ensure that charcoal supplies aren’t interrupted.
“When business is at its best, my supplier brings me at least two lorries full of charcoal per month. Retailers then get their supplies from me,” said Beatrice Uwera, a charcoal store operator in Remera.
Since most wholesalers sell a sack at Rwf 6500, Uwera sells hers at Rwf 6,400 in order to attract more customers.
“As a matter of fact, I sell all my charcoal in a very short time. I have to always make sure I place another order before selling my entire stock. You can’t imagine just how lucrative this business is,” she said, without mentioning just how much she earns each month.
Uwera is clearly excited about the progress her business has made. Her happiness is obvious just from looking at her beaming face.
“We might afford electric cooking appliances but we cannot afford to pay for electricity. And that was even before the new increased tariffs. That is why we must use charcoal stoves in our kitchens,” says Allan Mugwaneza, who operates the ‘Lunch Hour Restaurant’ in Kimironko.He explained that to benefit from his business, he had to use cost effective means to serve his clients. Charcoal stoves are not only used in restaurants but in most homes too. This is why Uwera`s business is booming.
Just like most people, Uwera and Mugwaneza understand that their trade is simply based on the availability of trees. “There should be a way through which the trees cut must be replaced. Otherwise, I am sure at one point, charcoal will be scarce and too expensive,” said Mugwaneza.
However, this issue goes beyond charcoal scarcity. The cutting of trees, especially without measures to replace them, has strong negative impact on the environment because it leads to the loss of soil nutrients due to soil erosion.
This deforestation is also contributing to climate change, a phenomenon that is mostly negatively affecting developing countries despite their slight contribution to overall global warming.
Speaking to The New Times, the Director of the Climate Change Unit at Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), Faustin Munyezikiwe, said that tree planting is among the top government priorities.
“According to our Forest Policy, the plan is to increase forest cover by at least 30 percent of total land surface,” Munyezikiwe said. He explained that the population has positively responded to the policy based on the benefits that is being realized through the increase in agricultural productivity.
Recently, REMA called on media to join hands with the Government and contribute to the sensitisation campaigns taking place in order to build the capacity of rural residents to fight against activities that destroy the environment.
The Director for Environmental Education at REMA, Rachael Tushabe, observed that this will help in enabling the population to realise the effects of destroying the environment and how it will impact the coming generations.
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