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|Charcoal Production In Somaliland With Emphasis On Export And Cross Border Movement|
By: Ahmed Ibrahim Awale
Somaliland, like other countries, has been in a state of ecological change for many decades and perhaps for hundreds of years, and practically all the changes have been towards a reduction in the vegetation cover. However, in the past three decades, the rate of deforestation, in response to rising demand for charcoal, wood for construction and thorn fencing, has put severe pressure on the remaining acacia woodland.
Biomass is the main and, indeed, the only traditional source of energy for Somaliland population. Charcoal is the principal energy producing fuel commonly used in urban areas for cooking and heating whereas firewood is commonly used in rural settlements.
Acacia species have a range of economical, esthetical, social, medicinal and environmental values. The galool (acacia bussei) is the most preferred tree, which is selectively felled for charcoal production, timber, and fencing – a fact which makes it a prime target, and given the current destruction rate it will be the first to be reduced to near extinction in the foreseeable future.
During the past fifteen years, charcoal production increased, to an extent that the acacia woodland resources are being harvested faster than they could regenerate. Added to this, the fact that the country is arid, and it takes a long period of time (25-30 years) for the trees to mature, which had resulted in the over-exploitation of tree resources in the wake of the rising urban energy needs.
Export of charcoal is illegal in Somaliland, although smuggling of some quantities to Djibouti and recently to Puntland is reported. In the early 90’s areas in eastern Sanag and Sool have been subjected to a merciless operation of tree cutting, which had resulted in the clearance of thousands of hectares of prime forestland for charcoal production, for export to the Gulf States. Coincidently, the recent drought condition that has impacted the communities of Sanag and Sool plateau was most severe in those areas where trees were burned in large scale for charcoal.
The action taken by the regional government of Puntland and civil society organizations (CSOs), particularly the Resource Management Somali Network (RMSN) through lobby and advocacy at local and regional levels has reduced the magnitude of charcoal exportation from the eastern regions. However, charcoal export and boat people crossing the sea - the former to the Gulf States and the later to Yemen - are reported to be continuing secretly in some ‘ports’ outside Bosaso. In addition, consignments of charcoal harvested from western parts of Togdheer reaching Puntland are in the increase, as recently reported by one of the local newspapers whereby 10 trucks fully loaded with charcoal were seen in Garowe.
Wood resource competition in the country emerged in year 2001, when nearly all dry trees for charcoal production became scarce, thus urging charcoal producers to cross to Region V bordering Somaliland which is comparatively rich of unexploited acacia woodland. According to a reliable source, around 15,000 bags of charcoal burned in Harshin district alone reach Hargeisa markets every month. During early 2003, the Ethiopian authorities made an attempt to halt charcoal consignments crossing to Somaliland, whereby drastic measures, including confiscation of trucks found carrying charcoal, were introduced. Despite of these measures, the consignments are still pouring into the Somaliland markets. This new trade trend has relieved the pressure of the traditionally heavily over-exploited acacia woodland areas inside the country. For example, while the galool dominated areas in the Haud plateau of Somaliland is experienced heavy deforestation rate, the profit-seeking charcoal trade entrepreneurs seek new grounds bestowed with forests, no matter where, and thus establish connections with the communities in those new areas.
Community pressure is another cause of shifting charcoal sites. When an area is heavily deforested, conflict over the remaining resources is inevitable between pastoral communities whose livelihoods depend on forest utilization on one end, and charcoal producers on the other.
The habit of Qat chewing which has become very widespread within the rural communities has urged thousands of young pastoralists desert their families and livestock to join charcoal production business with the only motive of satisfying their habits through plundering of trees. Unfortunately, they are always in debt, as all they gain from charcoal is spent on their personal needs and mostly on Qat. Stories are told of many who have lost in touch with their families for more than a year, shuttling from one charcoal site to another and frequenting nearby villages for replenishment of their needs. It is a bleak scenario and as one foreign observer put it, ‘ destruction of trees is one thing, but what is worse is spending the income on Qat’.
Lowyaddo is a border checkpoint, linking Somaliland to Djibouti. It is the only land route that all goods, people and vehicles pass through between the two neighboring countries. Charcoal is again smuggled into Djibouti in small consignments loaded on camel backs driven by nomads avoiding border police.
With the prominence of the overwhelming shrinkage of rural economies, more people are resorting to charcoal production as a new coping mechanism, and a source of income. It is then no wonder that charcoal is now is added to the list of products that the rural communities used to offer for trade, which included among other things: Ghee, honey, hides, skins, gums, and others.
If this trend is left unchecked, it will definitely lead to loss of bio-diversity, soil erosion, more recurring and more severs droughts, rural-urban migration, loss of wild life and many other related problems which will boil down into economic deprivation, high unemployment, conflicts and security problems.
Some of the civil society organizations (CSOs) have been pro-active in highlighting the environmental issues and the scenarios that could result by carrying out awareness raising and community trainings on environmental management. However, the role of the government to act and take a leading role in controlling the damage being done on the environment one end (already the damage is irreversible!), and exploring solutions to the fuel-wood/charcoal crisis that could engulf the country on the other end, is deficient. There is an urgent need to explore and avail alterative source of energy. Some potential areas of investment, introduction and popularization are liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and kerosene stoves. Tax exemption on the importation of anything related to alternative energy, including kerosene fuel, is highly recommended.
Impact of Charcoal Production on Environment and the Socio-economy of Pastoral Communities of Somaliland, Ministry of PD&E and Candlelight, January 2004
Deforestation and Charcoal Burning: Specific Case Studies from the Southern and Central Regions of Somalia, RMSN 2003