Booming charcoal business severely hurts environment

As compared to other East African countries, Rwanda’s clean environment tops the list when it comes to environmental protection. This is a position well earned as a result of the ban on polythene bags, planting of trees and the daily sweeping and maintenance of the streets and public gardens.
Trees are cut down due to the increased demand for wood (File photo)
Trees are cut down due to the increased demand for wood (File photo)

As compared to other East African countries, Rwanda’s clean environment tops the list when it comes to environmental protection. This is a position well earned as a result of the ban on polythene bags, planting of trees and the daily sweeping and maintenance of the streets and public gardens.

However, the environment has continued to face various challenges of degradation. Forests had to be cleared for the 1994 Genocide returnees who needed agricultural land and housing.

These had some negative impacts to the environment for example; soil erosion, deforestation, and charcoal burning which directly and indirectly impacted climatic changes.
Charcoal, today meets 80 percent of urban households’ energy needs in the country.

Energy for cooking remains a basic requirement and Rwandans are relying more on charcoal for cooking than electricity that is expensive.

According to Rose Mukankomeje, the Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), charcoal burning is one of the biggest environmental challenges in the country.

“Burning charcoal affects our environment daily. It destroys forests and results in soil erosion, rain reduction and air pollution because of the smoke emitted as well as the reduction of carbon sequestration by cutting trees.”

In retrospect, she further added that, the Government of Rwanda has created the National Forest Authority (NAFA), a body that will ensure proper management of forests and tree planting.

“Regulations have been put in place by the Forest Department in MINIRENA and will decide on what kind of trees and quantity to be planted each year that depends on the needs and age of tree harvesting,” Mukankomeje said.

The process of afforestation, where open land is converted into forest by planting trees and their seeds, Mukankomeje said “will save the climatic conditions in the country while deforestation is the otherwise.”

She noted that the most notorious forests are the ones that have eucalyptus trees. These she said are considered to give the best charcoal, the reason for their destruction. However, on the other hand, REMA’s Director General said that, “the promotion of modern stoves is being aimed as a way of reducing tree cutting. ”

However, in the urban areas families that can afford electricity in their houses still depend on charcoal while others have earned a living by selling charcoal.

This has made the charcoal business thrive and the result environmental degradation.

Richard Kabagambe, a resident of Kinamba said he does not see any other alternative to charcoal production because he earns his living by selling charcoal and firewood.

“This is where my bread comes from. This is where I get money to pay school fees for my children, and find money to pay for shelter,” Kabagambe said.

Though it’s a life source for the charcoal dealer, he agrees that excessive cutting down of trees destroys the environment.
“The government should look for ways of avoiding unnecessary cutting down of trees and engage in planting of trees to cover up for the cut ones.”

He said that authorities should try to save forests by taking various measures, like large-scale afforestation, educating people about the consequences of their widespread logging and involve them in environmental protection activities.
Kabagambe buys his charcoal from suppliers who get charcoal from lorries that come straight from the forests where charcoal is burnt.

“Even though it is a long process this business is creating job opportunities for many people,” he assured.

He further advised on the benefits of using charcoal.
“Most of my clients prefer charcoal to firewood because it burns without smoke, does not decompose, and does not create dangerous flames while cooking.”

With this mammoth challenge to curb charcoal burning, the REMA authorities have persisted in their efforts towards finding a solution.

Farmers are sensitized on tree planting and it’s benefits, for example if farmers planted more fruit trees, their health and nutrition would be improved. Further still, trees planted on sloppy grounds will prevent soil erosion.

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