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A PROBLEM TREE (HARVESTING OF TREES FOR CHARCOAL) Presented by three Master of Philosophy students of the University for Development

Studies, Tamale, Ghana. (2005) TANKO YAKUBU MARTIN DERY JAMES ADABUGA ISSUE Harvesting of trees for charcoal is widespread in the North and Brong Ahafo Regions of Ghana. On a trip to Southern Ghana, one cannot fail but notice the numerous towns and villages where hundreds of bags of charcoal are piled up along the road for sale. Truck loads of the charcoal are also common on the roads, carting the commodity to southern towns and cities. In Northern Ghana, the Sissala areas are noted for the production of charcoal. However, a lot of charcoal production is also done along the Bolgatanga-Tamale road, notably, at Wulugu in the West Mamprusi District. ROOT CAUSES OF HARVESTING OF TREES FOR CHARCOAL: The main reason for harvesting trees for charcoal is for domestic fuel for cooking. The communities where charcoal is produced, and in deed all rural areas, generally use firewood for cooking. Almost all the charcoal is transported to urban centers where it is the main domestic fuel for cooking. The high demand for charcoal in the cities and towns is the main driving force for the charcoal trade. In recent times, reports have emerged in the newspapers that charcoal is now being exported to Europe where the large African population there prefer charcoalgrilled to gas-grilled khebab. For those involved in harvesting trees for charcoal, their main motivation appears to be the money they get from the charcoal trade. Other reasons for charcoal burning are the following: i. Poverty. Mostly, the type of farming practiced in rural communities is peasant or subsistence farming. The soils are poor (in northern Ghana), the farms are small and not enough to support expanding families, and farming practices (eg perennial bush burning, cultivation of the same piece of land, year in and year out etc) lead to poor yields. The harvest is just enough for

feeding, and virtually none is left for sale to meet other domestic needs. The villagers may therefore resort to charcoal production to supplement their income. ii. Lack of Alternative Sources of Sustainable Income. Generally, the lands in the north are not naturally endowed (with minerals and forest resources). Thus apart from farming activities, the rural communities have little or no other alternative sources of income. They therefore resort to cutting down trees in their environment for firewood and charcoal to earn extra income. Off farming season idleness. Northern Ghana and the northern parts of the Brong Ahafo Region have only one raining season in the year. When the farming season is over, and the long dry season has come, the farming communities find themselves idle. They may therefore resort to charcoal production to keep themselves busy a kind of occupational therapy. Some traditional medicines have charcoal as a component. Certain trees may therefore be harvested for production of the charcoal.



RESULTS (EFFECTS) OF HARVESTING OF TREES FOR CHARCOAL i. ii. Deforestation. Tree cover is depleted, resulting in deforestation. Climate Change: The deforestation contributes to adverse climatic change like low rainfall since trees contribute to cloud formation and therefore rainfall. Low Soil Fertility: Falling leaves and branches of trees rot in the soil, thereby enriching soil fertility in the form of humus. Cutting the trees arrests this process, resulting in poor soil fertility. Also, the leaves and branches on the soil act as mulch, preventing or reducing evaporation of water from the soil. Soil Erosion: Falling leaves and branches of threes protect the soil from direct raindrops. This helps in checking wash-off of topsoil. Additionally, the roots of the trees bind or hold the soil firmly, also checking erosion. Cutting the trees for charcoal stops this process thereby leading to soil erosion.



All of the above combined, lead to land degradation. Also, very importantly, the biodiversity of the area is disturbed for the following reasons: i. ii. Some species of birds and bats live in the trees, and cutting the trees deprive them of their natural habitat. Some of the trees produce fruits (eg. sheanuts) which are eaten by bats, some bush animals and humans.

iii. iv. v.

The flowers produced by the trees before fruiting are visited by bees and butterflies, and the leaves are eaten by caterpillars. Cavities (hollow spaces) in tree trunks are the abode of squirrels, rodents and snakes. Impoverishment of the people. The monetary gain from harvesting trees for charcoal is temporary and insignificant compared to the long term impoverishment of the people of the communities where the trees are harvested for the charcoal. Very important economic trees which have taken decades to mature and fruit, and produce very valuable fruits for food, medicine and cosmetics, are cut down and burnt into charcoal. eg the sheanut tree. Apart from providing food, the trees also provide shade (shelter) where farmers, hunters and travelers on foot can rest and shelter from the sun and rain.


Desertification. The threat of desertification is another very serious consequence of the harvesting of trees for charcoal. The southwards movement of the Sahara Desert is enhanced by the harvesting of trees for charcoal.

SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM i. Intermediation. Efforts must be made to make the Communities involved in the practice of harvesting trees for charcoal become aware of the long term dangers of the practice. ii. Legislation. Appropriate legislation should be put in place to protect the environment by banning the harvesting of trees for charcoal. iii. Provision of Alternative Sources of Domestic Fuel. Government must make alternative sources of domestic fuel available. Such domestic fuels must be readily available and cheap, and the equipment needed to use these fuels must also be readily available and cheap.


Provision of Alternative Sources of Income. Alternative sources of income must be provided for communities to stop them from relying on charcoal production to supplement their incomes. For example provision of dams for dry season farming, provision of micro credit to engage in income generating activities.


Establishment of woodlots. Communities must be supported to establish woodlots which can be harvested for charcoal.


Reforestation. Intermediation on the sustainable use of environmental resources such as planting new trees to take the place of those cut.


Provision of Incentive Packages. Provision of incentives for moving away from the practice of harvesting trees for charcoal can be put in place. The incentives can be in the form of provision of farm implements, improved seed, free education for children e,t,c.

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