In spite of the sustained campaign against illegal logging in forests for the production of charcoal, operators are still making brisk businesses due to rising demand occasioned by the affordability of the cooking commodity.
A survey by the News Agency of Nigeria across some South West states and Kwara revealed that many Nigerians are increasingly resorting to charcoal for their cooking need due to the high cost of gas and kerosene as well as safety concerns.
Speaking with NAN, Olaosebikan Roselyn, a resident of Akure in Ondo state, said she uses charcoal for cooking as “it is cheaper than using gas”.
She explained that the price of a bag of charcoal, which would last for a month or two, is N2000, “whereas a 12.5kg cylinder of gas which will barely last for a month costs N3, 800.’’
“We cook beans a lot. This consumes a lot of gas if you don’t have a pressure cooker. Charcoal is faster and doesn’t burn as much which makes it ideal for saving money.
“The only disadvantage of charcoal is that you have to make sure there is adequate oxygen for it to burn well, if not, it will go out after a short time.
“Charcoal is also not as dangerous to use as gas which is volatile in nature. Gas cylinders also expire, and can explode and cause damages or claim lives if it has expired and due to be replaced.
“However, kids have to be closely watched while using charcoal as it can burn them,” she added.
A charcoal seller, Abimbola Adeyeye, confirmed that a bag of charcoal goes for N2, 000.
Mrs Adeyeye, who said she neither knew the process involved in making charcoal nor the kind of tree being used, said “mine is to sell to end users”.
She said her supplies were from various sources in different communities surrounding Akure.
Some consumers, who spoke with NAN in Ilorin, also expressed satisfaction with the use of charcoal for cooking.
According to Iyabo Oyetunji, a bag of charcoal worth N1, 700 serves her for more than a month compared to the spiraling cost of kerosene.
“I prefer charcoal because it is faster and cheaper compared to other cooking alternatives. I use charcoal on daily basis to cook. You can get the one of even N50 to cook for the family,” she said.
Another consumer, Memunat Ibrahim, said she preferred charcoal to other means of cooking because of its affordability.
“I cannot afford gas or kerosene that will finish before finish making pap. I resorted to buying charcoal and it serves me longer,” she said.
Afusat Abolaji, a housewife, described deforestation as a ” blessing in disguise ” for the ordinary people.
“The felling of trees is a blessing in disguise for those that use charcoal. It is serving Nigerians well, so far as they are not exporting them.
“Government should leave the loggers alone and let them do their business. They should go after criminals. It is not everybody that can buy gas or kerosene at the prices they are offering,” she said.
But Dr Tajudeen Okekunle-Amusa of the Department of Forest Resources Management, University of Ilorin, warned that harvesting wood for charcoal production would result in the disappearance of valuable trees.
Amusa observed that some of the trees that were gradually disappearing include Shea-butter and locust beans trees.
The expert in Forest Management pointed out that the “traditional earth kiln production technique is fraught with very low conversion efficiency of about 23 per cent conversion efficiency.”
He listed disadvantages of charcoal production to include loss of animal diversity in many communities owing to indiscriminate removal of vegetation cover that serves as their habitat.
He said others were physical and general health dangers faced by charcoal producers when harvesting charcoal from the earth.
He encouraged Nigerians to make use of modern ways of cooking, either domestic or industrial as against the use of charcoal.
The Permanent Secretary, Kwara state Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Mr Said Haliru, however, called on the Federal Government to ban exportation of charcoal to discourage production.
He told NAN that the ministry had tried a lot through the State House of Assembly to stop production of charcoal.
“We have our forest officers that are going after the producers of charcoal, and anyone that is caught will be dealt with.
“There is now 65 per cent compliance, while the remaining 35 per cent is going to be achieved through advocacy; mass education on radio and other media that production of charcoal is illegal,” he said.
The permanent secretary said that the ministry in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Environment distributed free cooking stoves and gas cylinders in a bid to encourage people to stop using charcoal.
The Nigerian Conservation Foundation, NCF, also identified the increasing demand and ready market for charcoal in the international space as major factors that had sustained the business and production of the commodity in Nigeria.
Mr Solomon Adefolu, the Lead, Climate Action Programme of NCF, made the observation in an interview with NAN in Abeokuta.
He described charcoal business, particularly for small entrepreneurs as lucrative, adding that some have formed themselves into marketing associations through which they export charcoal to foreign countries.
Adefolu said charcoal production involved felling timber and incomplete combustion, which according to him, “is eco- unfriendly’’.
He said that logging had been a real threat to the environment in terms of health hazards and a big loss to the Nigerian economy in the area of ecotourism.
The climate expert, who said that the business could not be stopped in Nigeria, insisted that the producers could still adopt sustainable alternatives in its production.
Proffering solutions, he called for the adoption of the Fuel Efficient Stoves (FES) recently introduced by some international agencies in African countries as an alternative source of cooking.
“It is a very big programme which is being promoted and run across African countries, but there is still a large gap to be filled, particularly in rural areas,” he said.
He also suggested Forest Certification System as a solution to the problem.
According to him, the system involves standardisation of the production procedure which allows for traceability of timbers to identified ownership and forest locations.
“Trees that are used for charcoal should be traceable to a particular location and an owner and this will reduce the practice of indiscriminate felling of trees,” he said.
He further called on gas producers to partner with local food sellers across the nation to step up the use of gas as an alternative to charcoal as a means of cooking.
The Ogun Commissioner for Forestry, Tunji Akinosi, in an interview with NAN, described authorised felling of trees, which would not constitute a danger to the community as legal.
According to him, unauthorised felling of trees is an offence punishable under the law of the state, adding that the state government frowned at such.
He gave an assurance that the state would continue to read rid the state of such illegality.
“We as a state government have decided to destroy whatever the illegal individuals are doing.
“We are not resting on oars, we are moving to meet them at the point where trees are illegally being tampered with.
“We will get them prosecuted and it will serve as deterrent to others,” he said.
He said that charcoal business was not common in Ogun, saying that “it is majorly practiced in neighbouring states”.
“They only use Ogun as a route. You can hardly find anywhere within our state that you see them making or producing charcoal.
“Our state is only a route which they use in transporting charcoal to other places.
“They have taken some of our men to the site where charcoal is being produced and we have seen that the site does not fall within our territory,” he said.
In Ibadan, Prof. Olugbenga Ehinola, an energy and environmental expert, however, said concerted efforts were needed to stop charcoal business because of its harmful effects to ” mother nature “.
“The local people are the ones still engaged in this practice and it is harmful to them as well as to the environment because of the process of making the charcoal.
“In the process of production of charcoal, they get burnt which can be a first degree burn and the ashes from the residue of the trees burnt affects the atmosphere causing a lot of problems,” he said.
Ehinola noted that the amount obtained from the sale of charcoal had always been meagre, adding that ordinary people should stop those who think they could make a livelihood from the business irrespective of the environmental impact.
Oladepo Atanda, the Osun Commissioner For Environment and Sanitation, however, said government was regulating the activities of loggers in the state so as to preserve government forest reserves.
Mr Atanda said that government had set up a task force to monitor forests in a bid to secure the environment.
He said any logger caught bypassing government approved channel for logging would be dealt with according to the law.
The commissioner, however, said that the state does not produce charcoal, adding that this had been helping in minimising the activities of loggers at government forest reserves.
Atanda said the government was planning to plant one million trees as part of the 25 million trees that the Federal Ministry of Environment through the National Council on Environment proposed for the year 2020.
Also speaking, OluwaRemilekun Agboola, the Financial Secretary of Timber Contractors and Saw Millers Association in Osun, admitted that said that charcoal business was having adverse effects on forest reserves.
Agboola, however, said the association was not engaging in charcoal business due to its adverse effects on the forest.
“Had it been that our fore-fathers burned the reserves to generate charcoal business, what would have been our source of income today?
“We are able to continuing in logging business because we are gaining from the business and boosting the government IGR.
“That’s why we cannot hesitate in planting more trees such as teak, millenia, and Afara to fight deforestation,” Agboola said.
Agboola, therefore, appealed to government to make a demarcation between timber and farmers reserve so as to prevent conflicts.
In Ekiti, Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Folorunsho Daramola, said government had evolved many programmes aimed at encouraging tree planting and ornamenting the environment.
But an environmentalist, Samuel Adebowale, said while availability of charcoal had made cooking more affordable,
burning wood fuels within the household could create indoor pollution.
He said the act could result in respiratory and eye problems because of the attendant smoke.