How Kitui charcoal ban is undermining conservation efforts

Friday, February 12th, 2021 00:00 |
Charcoal trade has been banned in Kitui County. Photo/PD/File

Mwikali Kilonzi, a charcoal vendor in Kitengela town, Kajiado County, decries sharp decline in business.

The 42-year-old trader says in the last two years, the ban on charcoal production in Kitui has greatly affected the venture.

Like every other business, Covid-19 has worsened the situation as restricted movements, jobs losses and other repercussions negatively impact the charcoal business.

“Our charcoal supply has been disrupted with the ban. This has led to increased transport costs as well as cutting on our profit margins,” noted Ms Kilonzi, a mother of two.

But now, researchers warn that ban on charcoal business, particularly in Kitui, may not be achieving the desired ecological and socio-economic benefits.

According to a recent research by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), total ban of production and sale of charcoal may be hurting conservation efforts and the local economy.

This is because traders move underground with rising demand, especially in Nairobi and other urban areas.

Further, the research has established that overall, Kitui charcoal production has decreased by 60 to 65 per cent from the pre-ban levels.

This has come even as farmers lack alternative livelihoods. “While a majority of rural families have lost a vital source of income, trees are still cut unsustainably and trade continues unsupervised with millions lost in revenue,” says Dr Phosiso Sola, a scientist with ICRAF.

According to the research findings, farmers now make  less profits as transporters charge higher fees due to the increased restriction on movements – if caught, they risk paying hefty bribes and fines, or even having their vehicles confiscated.

The cost is also partially transferred to consumers, who must now pay more for sacks of charcoal.

“This is a clear example of why restrictive policies that ban wood fuel without securing access to appropriate alternative livelihoods and energy sources result in many unintended outcomes,” observed Sola.

With just seven per cent forest cover, Kitui has been working hard to achieve the national target of 10 per cent.

Recently, the Kitui County Ecosystem Conservator Joyce Nthuku observed that without alternative means of livelihood, people tend to ignore the ban and engage in illicit charcoal production and trade rather than comply with formal processes.

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