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Creating Sustainable Programmes for Africa’s Charcoal Production

Charcoal is an essential source of domestic fuel in many sub-Saharan African countries. Overall, the region produces 65% of the world’s charcoal, with Nigeria, Ethiopia and Ghana being the top three producers. The charcoal sector employs about 40 million people in the region. Smallholders are responsible for most charcoal production, and it’s an important safety net for most producers. The average person in sub-Saharan Africa consumes 0.69 cubic metres of charcoal per year. That’s 2.5 times more than the amount of wood fuel an average person consumes globally. With demand for charcoal rising, this has led to governments attempting to formalise the sector. One such step has involved enabling investments from large-scale companies. For example, in Ghana, the government leases out forest reserves to private companies to produce wood on plantations for conversion to charcoal. Another step involves introducing punitive policies. For example, in Malawi, the state forbids smallholders from producing charcoal without permits, with noncompliance leading to fines and up to ten years imprisonment.