Charcoal production is associated with felling of both mature and near-mature trees. The nation’s forests are fast-disappearing due to uncontrolled and indiscriminate felling of trees for use as fuel or charcoal both of which are the means of cooking for most families.
This development led the National Environmental Standards Regulation and Enforcement Agency (NESREA) to recently unveil some sets of regulations aimed at protecting the environment and enhancing the standard of living of Nigerians.
Among the regulations was the Charcoal Act, the National Environmental Control on Charcoal Production and Export which among other things seek to control the production and use of charcoal in the country.
The regulation which is still undergoing expert review has the aim of regulating the export of charcoal and charcoal products, felling of trees for charcoal production and ensuring improved domestic charcoal production system.
The new regulation introduced by NESREA is not the first time government is attempting to regulate the production or use of charcoal. At the National Council on Environment held in 2011 in Kaduna, a decision was reached placing a total ban on the production and export of charcoal.
But two years after the ban, the business of charcoal kept thriving and has become so lucrative that it has continued unabated.
A report in the Ethiopian journal of Environmental Studies and Management Volume 5 Number 1 by a group of Nigerian experts noted that there should be laws that guard against the cutting down of trees for charcoal in both private and public forest areas without planting others as replacement.
The report entitled Subsistence Living and Global Climate Change: Implications of Biocharcoal Production for Farmers in Rural Areas of Nigeria, stressed that legislation alone cannot protect the forests without religiously enforcing them.
“It is a lot easier to disseminate charcoal in large scale than fossil fuels, because there is a well-developed market and there is no need for expensive infrastructure like refineries and processing. So, even though fossil fuels are in fact better for health and better for climate, they are more expensive and a lot harder to get out. There should be an appropriate policy that delivers gas and kerosene to end users for domestic use at affordable prices, which is possible with strong political will.”
But one Mrs. Adeshola a civil servant said she uses gas, which she described as more economical, compared to coal or kerosene. “I have used coal and kerosene several times and I can tell you that gas is the best though the hazard could be fatal,” she said.
According to her, she has two kerosene stoves but hardly uses them except when serious cooking calls. She added that her 12.7kg cylinder cost between N3,500 and N3,800 and it lasts over two months.
However, a housewife who gave her name as Mama Dorcas said she uses charcoal in most of her cooking especially when she wants to prepare things that take time to cook or have lots of things to cook. Although she has two stoves, she still prefers charcoal and uses her stove mostly during rainy season when the charcoal is wet, or to warm food.
She said she buys a bag of charcoal for N1,300 and it lasts for over two months and that she was likely to spend over N3,000 in a month if she was using kerosene. “Charcoal is cheaper than firewood; it does not stain the pots and it doesn’t produce smoke,” she added.
Another housewife who doesn’t want her name published said she works in a local restaurant kitchen in Nyanya where firewood serves as the cooking fuel.
According to her, her madam buys a pick up load of firewood every two weeks because they cook in large quantities. She said the reason they use firewood is that it serves better than any other “because of the kind of food we cook, we can’t use stove or gas cooker,” she said.
Another advantage of using firewood is the generation of charcoal from the firewood. She said the coal they generate from using firewood also serves them as they put some off to dry and preserve while the ones with fire are used to keep the food hot. “When the charcoal becomes much, my madam sells it out but not the same price with the one in the market,” she said.
As government prepares the legislation for the control of the production, use and export of charcoal, experts are sceptical if the needed will to enforce such legislation would be there in the absence of viable options for Nigerians who cannot afford cooking gas or kerosene.
It is therefore important to say that if there is any justifiable reason for the removal of subsidy from all other petroleum products, government subsidy on domestic gas and kerosene should be maintained in order to save our forests from further depletion. There should be an appropriate policy that delivers gas and kerosene to end-users for domestic use at affordable prices.