Statistics have it that in many developing countries more than 80% of the total energy consumed by people derives from forestry. In Tanzania alone, annual charcoal consumption is about one million tones. Half of that charcoal goes to Dar es Salaam where 73% of households use it as their first choice.
Very unfortunately, almost all charcoal is produced in the rural areas by harvesting the natural forests such as the Miombo woodlands and mangroves. This practice is done illegally and in most cases, without replacement. A study conducted by Tanzanian Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) reveals that 16,680 hectares of forest landscape has totally disappeared between 1975 and 2006 in the coastal East Usambara forest alone.
That is deforestation in searching for cooking energy, mainly charcoal and firewood. Our natural forests are faced by other threats; clearance for agricultural land, encroachment, bush fires, timber and mining are just few among many.
Forests play multiple roles in our lives and this is why we must protect them. The benefits include providing a source of livelihood, refuge for many species, and clean air for all. Did you know that the rain forests generate about 40% of the world’s oxygen? And according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) trade in timber and other forest products per year is estimated to be 330 billion US Dollars. That is to say, the decreasing forests land has a negative impact to the world economy too.
Other studies have pointed out that unsustainable charcoal production in rural areas is being accelerated by poverty. Since there has not being reliable alternative sources of income to many rural dwellers, it is very clear and unfortunate that unsustainable charcoal production will go on as the major income generating activity.
Question we must all ask ourselves; why all the strategies on adopting alternative energy sources stated in our policies have not being effective? It may be claimed that people should switch to gas. But how many people out there use natural gas as their main source of cooking energy? How many can afford the installation and monthly electricity bills in the rural areas? Can we really reduce the deforestation and forest degradation rates we currently experience?
Thanks to the ongoing efforts on sustainable charcoal production initiatives by environmental NGO's (like WWF Tz and Camco Advisory Services in the Coastal region) that aims at reducing the environmental problems caused by unsustainable charcoal production. But that is just a droplet in an ocean, other populated urban centers like Arusha and Mwanza (and other parts of Tanzania) still serves as principle markets for the unsustainably produced charcoal. In other words deforestation is taking place, everywhere around us.
Everyone is involved in this struggle. Everyone has a duty to accomplish, at least to change the situation. We can start from where we are, by spreading the awareness campaign all over, letting everyone know that we are all at risk, if things will go on this way. Raising environmental awareness among the school kids on the danger awaiting us all if at all we fail to act now as nurturing these young minds to become responsible stewards of the environment
We have the right, and it is our responsibility to question and advise our governments to develop and implement policies on sustainable use of forests. We can join the Green Campaigns to organize and take part in events that harmonizes the planting of trees in our areas. Private companies can join these efforts by supporting conservation activities in their areas and this will raise the awareness even to their employees.
With one voice and commitment we can make a difference. This year’s theme on World Environment Day goes 'Forests - Nature at your service' with the aim of steering up initiatives on environmental friendly actions among billions of people living in this planet. Most important thing is to note that everyone has a duty to accomplish in this struggle.
Innocent Kisanga-YET 2011