Local consumption of charcoal still minimal

Namibia’s charcoal exports accounted for 12,5% of total agricultural exports on average from 2009 to 2018.

From 2009 to 2020 its exports have contributed some 280 million euros (N$4,1 billion) to the country’s foreign exchange reserves.

This is according to the ‘Policy Brief of the Bush Control and Biomass Utilization II Project (2014-2021)’, which has now been extended to a third project from 2022 to 2024.

These figures clearly show that Namibia’s charcoal is highly sought after outside the country, with South Africa and the United Kingdom being major destinations.

But what is being done to promote local consumption for charcoal at home?

In an effort to formalise and strengthen the local charcoal industry the Charcoal Association of Namibia (CAoN) was founded in 2016.

CAoN works closely with the Namibia Biomass Industry Group (N-BIG) and the Debushing Advisory Service.

The chairperson of CEoN, Michael Dege, says the local demand for charcoal is insignificant and charcoal production in Namibia is mainly for export purposes.

“Local demand for charcoal is just less than 2%. At the moment, charcoal production in Namibia is for export,” he says.

Dege says a growing local demand for charcoal has been noticed especially at major towns and this has been attributed to tourists who prefer using charcoal when braaing, rather than firewood.

Dege, however, says as long as firewood is freely available, local charcoal demand would not increase.

The main production areas for charcoal is around Grootfontein, Outjo, Otjiwarongo and Tsumeb.

Wood for charcoal production is mainly harvested manually in communal areas and on commercial farms.

Dege says while the local demand for charcoal is small, CAoN has taken steps for on-farm training on how to produce biochar from encroacher bush, which presents another opportunity for Namibian land users to counter bush encroachment.

According to the Bush Control and Biomass Utilization III project, bush encroachment now covers up to 45 million hectares of agricultural and natural savannah, and this negatively affects biodiversity in the invaded regions and also undermines the economic livelihoods of the local population.

At the moment, it says, the biomass industry is growing significantly and the industry has now created 11 000 jobs.

Dege says biochar is used in local agriculture.

Biochar is a form of black carbon that is used for soil enhancement, animal health and carbon sequestration.

Dege says training on the production of biochar is also conducted at the CAoN charcoal village at Otjiwarongo.

In 2018, N-BIG hosted the first-ever demonstration day for the public and key role-players in the biomass sector at the Cheetah Conservation Fund outside Otjiwarongo, which was attended by over 400 people in the biomass sector.

At the event, the chief executive officer of the N-BIG, Progress Kashandula, said the gathering was mainly aimed at supporting improved linkages among biomass producers and entrepreneurs offering the services and technologies in Namibia, as well as in neighbouring countries.

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