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23 November 2021, Kumasi, Ghana – Of all the wood produced every year in sub-Saharan Africa, 90 percent is used as fuel, posing a major sustainability challenge. Woodfuel, primarily firewood and charcoal, is the main source of energy for cooking for two-thirds of households and is a critical element in maintaining food security. Millions of households depend on woodfuel production to make a living, but heavy reliance on it makes for social, economic, environmental and health concerns. With such complex issues, a broader approach is needed.
The wood fuel sectors in most sub-Saharan African countries are characterised by a high degree of informality. There are on-going efforts in most countries to formalise the sector, that is, to organise, regulate and control the production and trade, typically under the heading of sustainability. These plans give stronger roles to institutions of the state to control the production and trade through permits, taxes, and enhanced controls. However, attempts at formalising the sector without an intimate understanding of the ecological, social, and economic contexts within which the production and trade take place, run the risk of failure or may compromise wood fuel-dependent livelihoods. Sustainable wood fuel production and trade remains a contested issue and big challenge in Africa that needs to be tackled urgently and collectively with all stakeholders involved.
The charcoal enterprise in Ghana has for decades provided the bulk of energy needs of majority of households and serves as the livelihood base for scores of people especially in areas endowed with trees suitable for charcoal production. Though charcoal is accessible to a large number of households, it is characterized by poor harvesting and processing practices. Its high consumption is largely attributed to population growth, poverty, and urbanization. The poor practices associated with charcoal production have significantly contributed to deforestation and forest degradation especially in Ghana’s transition and savannah zones.
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