In Kenya, charcoal production is big business. 82% of urban households rely on charcoal for their domestic energy and the charcoal industry employs almost 1 million people through its value chain. However the industry is largely informal and unregulated. Inefficient production leads to low quality charcoal with high wastage and levels of pollution. Producers suffer from negative health impacts of the production process and the way charcoal is produced contributes to deforestation.
Whilst charcoal production has a negative image, by recognising its role in Kenya’s energy sector, there is potential to turn around charcoal production and use it to contribute to sustainable development.
With this aim, the Government of Kenya has recently introduced energy and forestry laws to regulate charcoal production and drive more sustainable production through afforestation and controlled tree cutting.
To complement this, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) contracted ClimateCare to carry out a study into the methods of charcoal production in two regions of Kenya and to pilot more efficient production methods.
After carrying out local studies, our experts identified the following opportunities to improve charcoal production and legal compliance in the two pilot regions of Baringo and Rukinga:
- Identifying sustainable feed stocks for charcoal production
- Introduction and adoption of efficient drum kilns to replace the traditional earth mound.
- Better organisation and management of the local charcoal production groups
The first step was to organise charcoal production groups. Through these, the ClimateCare team were better able to engage with the community to implement changes. By uniting producers these groups also helped knowledge sharing and empowered the group to negotiate prices more effectively.
Working with the local community, sustainable feed stocks were then identified. In Baringo an invasive species Prosopis juliflora, popularly known as Mathenge was used, while in Rukinga twigs were harvested sustainably adjacent to a local REDD+ Project.
Our project team then identified suitable kiln designs, had them fabricated and introduced them to the community. The team piloted the kilns, and trained local charcoal producers in their use.
The efficient drum kilns were quickly adopted and continue to be used. The team has been monitoring charcoal producers, who are now also better organised as groups, and able to negotiate better charcoal prices for their members.
As well as a successful switch to use of sustainable feed stocks, the charcoal producers have reported significant improvement in the efficiency of production, reduced overall demand for feedstock, improved charcoal quality and better charcoal prices. There was also a great reduction in the time taken to produce a batch of charcoal.
The results of this pilot study demonstrate how a move to a more sustainable and efficient charcoal production process can:
- Be introduced to and accepted by the local community
- Reduce deforestation, by reducing feedstock demands and switching to sustainable sources
- Improve productivity for producers leading to increased income
- Reduce carbon emissions
In both study areas the communities would like to continue using the kilns introduced in their pilot and have asked their newly formed Charcoal Producers Associations to acquire more kilns in future. Ultimately the aim is for each charcoal producer to have their own efficient kiln.
ClimateCare’s next step is to secure finance to scale and replicate these small pilots and kick start the transformation of the charcoal production chain in Kenya and beyond.
Drum Kilns are more efficient than traditional earth mound kilns – reducing fuel requirements, cutting emissions and improving incomes for charcoal workers. They can also be split into 4 main parts and so carried to a new location where there is feedstock.