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More Charcoal By Traditional Methods

Reproduced from ODA Newsletter - January 1991 No. 10

In Somalia as in many other African countries, the major domestic fuel is charcoal. Charcoal consumption is therefore high and efficient methods of production are extremely important, increasingly so as the population grows and the demand for fuel and other resources grows with it.

There are two major methods of charcoal production in Somali a and it is the Bay (pronounced 'by') method, most widespread in the central and southern areas of the country, which is the more efficient of the two. Charcoal produced using the Bay method accounts for about 80% of the country's charcoal production.

The Bay method takes its name from the Bay region situated 300-350 km west of the capital, Mogadishu. Around half of the total land area is covered with woodlands and wooded brushlands: the largest national resource for charcoal manufacture. The region has good road access, allowing easy transportation of charcoal to market in the capital.

Licenced Production

Production of charcoal in the Bay region is governed by strict regulations: only members of the Charcoal Producers' Cooperative and their workers are legally allowed to manufacture the fuel and a license must be obtained from the National Range Agency (NRA). The workers are divided into camps, each managed by a Cooperative overseer who usually lives in a nearby village.

About 14 charcoal burners and their families make up each camp. They live in small round huts made using traditional nomadic methods. The camps are fairly remote and there is no transport and no natural water supply. Water, contained in 200-litre empty oil drums, is brought in by the trucks that come to collect the charcoal. Food and other supplies arrive the same way. The charcoal workers and their families remain in the area until the usable timber is exhausted - normally two years or so before moving on to a new site.

Circular Stacks

Supervised by a foreman, the workers select an area within the camp site and cut timber to build a kiln. When sufficient timber has been cut, the foreman organises the rest of the camp workers to help collect the timber, build and operate the kiln and when ready, unload the charcoal and load the truck and trailer.

The kiln is built by stacking timber upright on the soil floor. It is built into a circular mound two tiers high at the centre, with the larger pieces making up the lower tier. It is packed as close as possible and the gaps are filled with smaller pieces of wood.

The mound is then covered with metal sheets made from empty oil drums, overlapping at the edges. A 'skin' of thorny branch wood is placed around the mound and then 5 cm of thick red soil, known locally as 'hargen' is used to cover the mound, leaving about 125cm from ground level uncovered around the stack's circumference. The best soil to use is that which contains a fine root system which will hold the soil together.

To light the kiln a worker must climb to the top and remove some of the soil and upper sheets until he has lit the timber. The sheets are then put back in place. Holes are made in the upper pan of the kiln to allow air to enter and smoke to exit.

Timber Supply

The timber used can be either healthy or dying trees, preferably the larger and denser species such as Acacia bussed (ITS) known locally as 'galol' or A. senegal, (ITS) known locally as 'adad'. A major problem is that of diminishing resources: as trees are cut the regrowth is left unprotected and is often destroyed by camels or other livestock.

In addition, stumps are often burned to make way for donkey cart tracks and charcoal trucks. Felling mature trees and providing no means of effective regeneration means that if the current methods of charcoal production continue, Somalia will inevitably face fuel shortages.

Researchers from the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), the ODA's scientific institute have been examining the Bay method of charcoal production, comparing it with a transportable metal kiln of their own design which has been used widely in other developing countries.

They discovered that the Bay method compares very well with their own kiln. Unlike charcoal production in some other regions of Africa, the method gives high yields, with over 40% good quality charcoal obtained. The NRI researchers believe that this is in part thanks to the excellent charcoal making properties of (ITS)A bussed.

Elsewhere in the developing world, the NRI kiln and other technologies will improve on traditional methods of charcoal and other fuel production, depending on local conditions. NRI is also examining the difficult question of diminishing resources and environmentally destructive production methods.