The rise in prices of cooking gas and kerosene is creating a demand for charcoal, whose price is likewise escalating – a development that translates to an increase in the felling of trees, a raw material for charcoal.
The negativity in the use of charcoal surmounts the temporal alternative it serves in cooking. Felling of trees for production of charcoal is usually carried out without recourse to planting many more trees to replace the felled ones. This practice leads to deforestation which is a clear and present danger in the face of ever increasing risks of climate change.
For the past three weeks, cooking gas, which has been embraced by many in Benue State as a substitute to kerosene, has become a scarce commodity. The scarcity is said to be caused by the halt in production of gas in the country, thereby leaving only one avenue for its procurement through importation, a situation that looks to have skyrocketed the price. A 12.5 kg of cooking gas which went for N4,000 jumped to N5,000. Meanwhile, kerosene too went for as high as N270-N300 at filling stations and N350-N400 per litre at black market selling points.
To this end, many homes turned their focus to charcoal for cooking, which also shot the price up from N1,200 to N1,800 then to N2,000 per bag.
Away from the pricing mechanism which is hard to control, especially for cooking gas as it was recently confirmed by Secretary Petroleum Products Monitoring and Price Regulating Committee, Benue State, Mr Titus Dyaaiyol, in a monitored interview on radio not to be within their purview, there is need for the price of gas to reduce and be within reach of the common man. Invariably, if the price of cooking gas becomes affordable, more people will use it and desist from the use of charcoal with its harmful antecedents.
Charcoal is generally known as a dark or black form of carbon obtained by usually heating wood in an enclosed space without air. This charcoal is thereby used as fuel in cooking.
Not too long ago, many states such as Benue had forest reserves overlooked by the government, communities or certain families but all that is now in the past as scores of forest trees have been felled without replacement. In place of most forests in these areas are farmlands and homes.
In this regard, the expansionist need superseded the need of these forest owners in reserving the forests. They saw more gain in either felling the trees for timber, charcoal or simply expanding farmlands or homesteads.
As earlier stated, the rising cost of petroleum products such as kerosene and gas as well as the high cost of operating electric cookers obviously gave rise to Nigerians embracing the use of charcoal in locally made charcoal stoves popularly known as “Abacha Stove” since the mid-90s. These stoves have a hollow base where charcoal is stoked and lit. It usually takes a while for the embers to properly light but, once they do, they burn steadily. This process is said to cook food faster and better. Whether the aforementioned assertion is true or not, the use of charcoal in the long run attracts many environmental ills.
Charcoal making process is considerably easier and cheaper with little investment, hence, the rush by the private sector and locals into its production from the available resource in the environment. Most definitely, the cost of using charcoal may augur well for the community but the overall cost in terms of environmental damage cannot be overemphasised. Although, its use plays a major role in our economy and energy sector as an ideal fuel, charcoal is nevertheless a form of “dirty fuel.”
Suffice it to stress that charcoal is an in-efficient fuel to produce, and is un-clean. In comparison, charcoal stoves which are usually out-door used, in as much as they are more efficient to use than firewood stoves, still lag behind kerosene, electric and gas stoves.
In essence, the high use of charcoal according to experts results in the high consumption of wood which in turn results to more emission of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and CO (carbon monoxide). The question is how to produce sustainable basis charcoal without causing deforestation and create a neural carbon cycle. There is no gain saying the fact that deforestation comes with loss of wildlife and other environmental degradation ills such as desertification.
This booming charcoal business which is fueled by the poverty in the rural areas and sustained by the exploding population among the urban middle class and poor who find it cheaper to use charcoal in place of soaring kerosene and cooking gas price is not helping matters with climate change adaptation in Benue State. This brings to the fore the need for the National Environmental Standards Regulatory and Enforcement Agency (NESREA) under the Federal Ministry of Environment to step up its regulatory role of protecting forest resources as stipulated by the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife and Flora (CITES). The Benue State Government too needs to step up its regulating of felling of trees and encourage aggressive tree planting to curb desertification effects.
If mitigating moves are not put in place by appropriate authorities in checking the charcoal business, our forests would soon disappear and do away with the traditional role of trees providing living things oxygen in the course of photosynthesis. More so, this anomaly coupled with other human activities is responsible for far reaching impacts of global warming and climate change.
To buttress this point, experts assert that only five percent of the country’s forest resource is standing, as those felled have not been replenished, as it ought to. Little wonder, governments usually organise tree planting events year in, year out but do not put properly managed and supervised machinery in place to sustain the growth of the trees.
By and large, as a matter of urgency, the introduction of clean and efficient cooking stoves among the Nigerian populace, especially the local ones, which will cut down about 80 percent of the use of fuel, will spur the country on the way to sustainable development and a cleaner and more environment friendly cooking practice.
By Damian Daga, Makurdi