Charcoal Diaries

Energy, rural livelihoods, natural resources

A burning charcoal issue: Livelihoods matter

Last week I was incredibly fortunate to attend the XIV World Forestry Congress in Durban, South Africa. The underlying message for the conference resonated with me. It was anthropocentric, acknowledging the deeply embedded links between forests and people. The slogan for the conference was:  “Forest and people: Investing in a sustainable future”, and on the final day they announced the “Durban Declaration”:

A new vision, a new way of thinking and acting for the future of forests and forestry in sustainable development at all levels. 

The conference was colossal.

There were hundreds of events that spanned an entire week, with nearly 4000 participants from 142 countries. I went to as many events as humanly possible, including all the events that focussed on woodfuels and wood energy. There were three wood energy events in total:

I presented the first chapter of my PhD thesis in the second event, focussing specifically on the impact of enforcements on charcoal transporters’ economic outcomes (I will be exploring this further in a later blog post). There was definitely a running theme throughout all three events, one that I readily welcome and that I believe to be moving in the right direction. The emphasis focussed on embracing the woodfuel trade, and working with it (rather than trying to shut it down) to make it a sustainable source of household and industrial energy.  You can read a summary of the main events (including the wood energy one) here.

Whilst the over arching message was positive and the issues covered were vast,  there was one crucial thing that I felt was missing. Apart from some general livelihood discussions, such as a presentation on the charcoal value chain in Maputo, Mozambique by Sophia Baumert, there was in fact a limited detailed focus on livelihoods, in addition to my own contribution.

I find this rather troubling. 

From the research that I have been doing over the past 2.5 years, if there is one thing that I believe, its that the livelihood issues surrounding charcoal are just as significant as the provision of energy and environmental management. In my opinion, if you want to effectively discuss charcoal issues and have sustainable and achievable approaches to manage it, there are three essential topics that need addressing:

  1. Energy
  2. Environment
  3. Livelihoods

The energy and environmental topics are frequently addressed in a number of ways, often looking at the negative aspects of environmental degradation associated with unregulated charcoal production, or ways to make the production and consumption of charcoal more efficient, through the use of improved technologies. The environmental and energy aspects occasionally have a scattering of ‘livelihood benefits’, but rarely are livelihoods a stand alone topic.

This is not a productive dialogue. 

Tomorrow, in Malawi, there is going to be a two-day ‘Charcoal Forum’, running the 16-17th September 2015. The Forum has been organised by the Government of Malawi and there are four objectives to the forum:


Press release for the Charcoal Forum

I welcome the forum. It is a fantastic starting point for Malawi’s charcoal future.

However… yet again, there is something missing from the Forum’s objectives. None of the objectives acknowledge any livelihood issues associated with charcoal. Instead they are very focused on the negative impacts of the charcoal trade.

For this reason, I want to bring the livelihoods agenda not only to the Forum’s attention, but also to your attention.

I have produced a policy brief, specifically focussing on charcoal livelihoods. The brief will be circulated at the Charcoal Forum tomorrow with the aim to highlight the livelihoods issue and inform Malawi’s decision makers about the importance of charcoal as a livelihood strategy.

Please read through the brief below. It is short! And, if you are involved in the sector, please do circulate the brief.


Please subscribe if you want to know more and if you have any questions/suggestions, please post below!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on September 15, 2015 by .
%d bloggers like this: