Category Archives: charcoal

Some steal, some labor, some buy

We complain about it, we pretend not to use it (while picking our teeth after eating nyama choma cooked with it), we castigate those who burn and sell it, and sympathies with the masses that need it. Charcoal: the outcast in Kenya’s energy family.

But who is the charcoal producer?

In this  post, we re-visit Murefu Barasa’s description of the known four types of producer.

First is the notorious and elusive ‘sneak and snip’ producer who poaches trees from gazetted government forest and other protected areas. When one mentions charcoal, this type of producer if often what a majority visualize in mind. However, our forest cover is less than 2% and so there cannot be many of theseacross the country considering much of the land in Kenya (nearly 80%) is categorized as arid and semiarid (ASAL). These producers are concentrated in districts that border or encompass forest reserves, for example Nakuru, Kakamega, Nyeri, Malindi districts.treburnt.jpg

Photo: Burnt tree in Maasai Mau, cleared to make way for farms

Second, is the ‘sideline’ producer. Unlike the ‘sneak and snip’, production is done in the ASAL areas and more specifically on large scale privately owned ranches. These producers are often labourers in the ranches and are allowed by the owners to use some of the trees for charcoal as pay for their services or incentives. This is common in Taita Taveta, Trans Mara, Makueni districts. Charcoal is not the primary source of income for these producers but takes up a supplementary role. Under this category also lie the charcoal producers in ASAL areas who make charcoal as a drought coping mechanism for example in Kitui, Turkana, Baringo and West Pokot districts.

Third is the ‘salvage’ producer, similar to the sideline as they both operate in ASAL areas. However, the salvage producer uses trees or shrubs that will otherwise have been discarded as waste. Prior to the booming charcoal production in Narok district, landowners used to burn all the vegetation on their land in readiness for cultivation. This has since changed and now salvage charcoal producers are invited to do the clearance. Production is high with yields of up to 50 bags per run. Another example is Garissa, where the controversial Prosopis shrub has taken over pasture land. While some clear this ‘weed’ freeing up land for their livestock, others use the same for charcoal production with amazing success. Salvage producers also visit areas that have been excised for human settlement and use the felled trees for charcoal and so are often wrongly accused of clearing forests for charcoal and yet the clearance is primarily for human settlement and agriculture, charcoal production being an after thought.

Fourth is the ‘sow and reap’ producer. These are few, and mostly found in the high potential areas for example Bungoma, Lugari, Meru North, Nyando districts. Production is low, often less than five bags per round as they obtain the raw materials from standing stock as opposed to felled trees. Often only branches are used through pruning.

And therefore as we consider further the charcoal debate, we can say that no one can dispute totally banning the ‘sneak and snip’ producer and perhaps we can all agree on strengthening the ‘sideline’ producer and the ‘sow and reap’.

This post is part of an article initially written for the KFWG newsletter after the National Charcoal Survey carried out in 2005.

KFS is in the process of writing, for gazettement, the charcoal rules and regulations. They will give guidance on charcoal production.