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,Tanzania ,Walking out of charcoal as an alternative fuel

Walking out of charcoal as an alternative fuel

Then it came up with measures that were meant to control the production of charcoal in an effort to curb the depletion of forests and destruction of the environment at large. NYASIGO KORNEL highlights.

Hamisi looked at the stacks of charcoal sacks with satisfaction. There were about 50 sacks all of which had been arranged neatly in a shed built of corrugated iron sheets.

He is popular dealer in charcoal at Buguruni on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam.

A similar amount was hidden away in another shed in Kinondoni area.

He was thus sure to make a handsome amount of money within a short time as the price of the commodity had recently shot up to twice or three times as much in less than a month.

First the government had halted the production of charcoal for sometime, to sort out a few irregularities that had tainted not only the charcoal business and the harvesting of forest products in general, but also the integrity of some officials in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.

Then it came up with measures that were meant to control the production of charcoal in an effort to curb the depletion of forests and destruction of the environment at large.

Both moves weighed heavily on charcoal consumers. The commodity became scare.

Unscrupulous traders like Hamisi created on artificial scarcity by hiding the commodity and laying the blame on the government, so as to make some quick money.

As such, the price of one sack of charcoal in Dar rose from 10,000/= to 22,000/= almost over night.

Other urban centres in the country were not spared from the dramatic rise in the price of their dependable source of fuel.

In fact there was and still there is no way urban residents can avoid using charcoal .

Currently, charcoal accounts for almost 92 percent of domestic energy used in urban areas while electricity accounts for only 6 percent. The latter is expensive and unreliable.

Yet to many Tanzanians, there seems to be no better alternative to charcoal, much as it leads to deforestation.
The severe drought that we experienced recently raised red flags on how we treat our environment.

The subsequent energy crisis that the country was thrown into calls us to look for an alternative source of energy that would not only be relatively cheap but would also reliable and protect our environment.

When President Jakaya Kikwete visited the Ministry of Minerals and Energy, he directed the officials to team up with their counterparts in Vice-President’s Office (environment), the Ministry of Water and that of Natural Resources and Tourism and come up with an alternative source of energy to hydroelectricity and charcoal.

The energy crisis had shaken the country’s economy and slackened its development.

Already, experts are working on alternatives such as coal, solar, wind and natural gas but little has been said about Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), a mixture of gases that are by-products of crude oil distillation to produce petrol, kerosene, diesel and black oils.

LPG is a clean fuel that is used everywhere around the world, from the most advanced economics to the less developed and in all types of climate.

However it is often confused with natural gas in ordinary life. This arises from the fact that both are considered as energy of the 21st century irrespective of their different chemical characteristics.

But the major difference is practical.

Whereas natural gas requires pipeline infrastructure to reach consumers, LPG can simply be packed in tanks and cylinders and so reach the rural areas overnight.

Any village can thus have access to this modern form of energy and forget about using charcoal.

LPG is one of the few clean and environmental friendly sources of energy in Tanzania. Others are electricity, solar and natural gas.

Wind is also in the list although it is not widely used.

There sources do not produce any pollutants into the atmosphere as opposed to charcoal, firewood, kerosene, coal and fuel oil which produce pollutants that have advance effects on the environment.

Another advantage of this source of energy is that it helps to prevent desertification.

Some experts estimate that 40 per cent of the county is currently threatened with desertification.

Reducing pressure on forests and woodlands would halt desertification and this can only be achieved by reducing dependence on charcoal as the major source of energy.

Available data indicates that the rate of deforestation in the country stands at between 500,000 and 2,000,000 hectares annually (National Forest Policy, 1998).

Recent estimates (FAO 2002) indicate that Tanzania’s rate of deforestation in more than 500,000 hectares per year.

The figure is likely to have grown higher between 2002 and 2004 when the charcoal business and export of logs had flourished.

Thus the use of LPG as an alternative to charcoal and firewood will substantially reduce the depletion of forests that has started to threaten the tourism industry by destroying the habitat for wildlife.

Thus promoting and ultimately increasing the use of LPG will have an indirect effect on conservation and protection of water sources. Cutting trees for firewood and charcoal causes environmental degradation.

Deforestation and destruction of natural vegetation destroys catchment areas for rivers, lakes and basins. This is mainly what has led us into the current water crisis.

Many African countries have turned to LPG as the major source of energy. Egypt tops the list with 2.7 million MT per year followed by Algeria (1.7 million), Morocco (1.3 million) and Libya (0.5 million).

Kenya which consumes 40,000MT highly promotes the use of LPG and at the sometime has set very stiff sentences to people who destroy forests.

It has completely banned the production of charcoal and whoever is found with as much as one piece of charcoal is certain to serve at least a year in jail.

Moreover, any vehicle found with sacks of charcoal becomes the property of the government while the driver and the owner will both be imprisoned for at least one year.

We in Tanzania have neither been able to promote the use of LPG nor have we been able to reduce the dependence on charcoal as the number one source of domestic energy and so halt deforestation.

This state of affairs does not match the recent government announcement to deal with environmental destruction, conserve and protect water sources and turn the country green.

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