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Households bear brunt of skyrocketing charcoal prices

The Government ban on logging and crackdown on charcoal trading has forced millions of Kenyans to look for alternative sources of fuel.

There have been reports of some hotels scaling down their businesses while some expressed fears of being kicked out of their premises for using smoky firewood because they could no longer access charcoal.

In the meantime, maize roasters, schools, prisons and hospitals complained that they were having to look for alternatives as some hotel operators complained they had been driven out of business by ever-rising prices.

At the same time, the ban has created an avenue for smugglers, who are now trafficking charcoal from Uganda and Tanzania.

The net effect of the ban is that an estimated 5 million households have no access to wood or charcoal going by the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2014.

According to the survey, the number of households dependent on wood is 56 per cent, while those who use charcoal to cook cover 9.7 per cent.

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Interestingly, only 10.4 per cent of Kenyans use electricity for cooking while a further 11 per cent rely on gas and an equal number on paraffin.

The number of households where no food is cooked is estimated to be 1.5 per cent.

In most urban centres where the sole fuel for cooking is charcoal, the prices of the commodity has reached Sh3,500 per bag in some areas in Nairobi, while in some informal settlements, families have resorted to burning nylon bags to cook.

A spot check across the country showed police in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania had intensified patrols, specifically targeting charcoal transporters, who are paying dearly by having the contraband confiscated as they are made to pay for their freedom.

But in the face of this desperation, Nakuru Water and Sanitation Services Company (Nawasco) has resorted to making briquettes from human waste and sawdust, and demand has increased sharply.

Project manager John Irungu said they have been producing two tonnes of briquettes per month but all this has sold out as the market has also expanded beyond Nakuru County – their traditional market.

The company has turned to the use of bagasse, the dry pulpy residue left after the extraction of juice from sugar cane, which they are getting from sugar companies.

In Kisumu, Homa Bay and Migori counties, charcoal traders told The Standard they had doubled imports from neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania through Lake Victoria and illegal routes.

Middlemen in Kisumu said they were making a killing as they sold the charcoal at inflated prices – the price of one sack has shot from Sh600 to Sh2,900 as both wholesalers and retailers hike their prices.

Kisumu Central OCPD Mutune Maweu said last week police arrested two people found importing charcoal without a movement permit.

“We impounded several sacks and took the case to court last week,” said Mr Maweu.

However, an interim report prepared by a task force formed to look into forest management and logging activities reveals that blatant destruction of forest has been occasioned by corruption among forest officers and poor record keeping.

The interim report, which was handed over to Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko last week, said lack of accountability and unfair trade dealings were discovered in areas visited by the task force members.

A full report is expected to be released by Mr Tobiko in two weeks.

The ban, The Standard has established, is also having an impact on tea factories in parts of the North Rift region that rely on wood fuel for their operations.

“We need 650 acres of eucalyptus tree cover in each of our two tea factories in Nandi County to be fully sustainable in wood fuel,” said John Tega, a director with Kenya Tea Development Agency and chairman of Chebut and Kaptumo tea factories.

Mr Tega said 250 acres of land have been bought and trees planted to boost their fuel requirements and minimise operational costs.

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As the ban continues to bite, players in the firewood sector have called on the Government to rethink the decision, as some State institutions such as the National Youth Service, prisons, schools and tea factories are suffering.

According to Jackson Michuki, a dealer in forest products, several Government institutions, including public hospitals, rely heavily on firewood for cooking.

Mr Michuki gave the example of NYS College in Gilgil, Nakuru County, where three lorry loads of firewood are used daily to cook for the trainees.

“Other institutions like prisons, public hospitals and schools rely on wood rather than charcoal to cook and they do not have alternatives,” he said.

Elsewhere in Taita Taveta County, an official from Wildlife Works, which deals with wildlife and environmental conservation, said they had been educating residents on the importance of using cheap alternative sources of fuel and energy.

Wildlife Works official Emily Mwawasi said the organisation, which has been dealing in carbon credit, has partnered with 14 protected ranches to make briquettes, which they sell to residents in Maungu, Kasigau and Mackinnon Road townships on the Nairobi-Mombasa highway among other areas.

Frank Fumbu, a resident from Mwatate, said they had been getting charcoal from private farms in Chunga Unga and Mkamenyi.

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