CIFOR-led multistakeholder research and iterative consultation processes have broadened the policy debate around charcoal production to include the livelihood implications of regulating the industry.
Current policy stigmatizes charcoal producers; emphasis is placed on the environmental impacts of charcoal production with little being said about its contribution to livelihoods. What is needed is a policy that ensures that charcoal production is not only environmentally sensitive but also recognizes the contributions made to livelihoods of rural people. FTA research and activities have contributed to processes that facilitate policies that will encompass livelihood considerations.
The charcoal trade is a major driver of deforestation in Zambia. Commonly consumed by poor semi-urban households, charcoal is a cheap energy source. However, producers are not formally organized and obtain feedstock for charcoal making from open forests through user rights. With serious poverty issues in most rural areas in Zambia, producers claim that charcoal production is central to their livelihoods.
Permission to make charcoal can be obtained from the Forestry Department with recommendations from the local chief, but while some producers know about this legal provision, others do not, or find the process cumbersome. Even when production permits have been issued, follow-up and monitoring by the Forestry Department has not been undertaken. Thus, the lack of clarity around policy issues governing charcoal production and trade has led to forest losses, which will continue unabated if new policy measures are not put in place. Such measures are only possible if the subject is openly debated.
Charcoal production and trade employs close to 500,000 people in Zambia and this is likely to increase with deepening poverty issues, resulting in more forests being cut for charcoal. It has been estimated that charcoal production contributes close to 30 percent of the country’s current rate of annual forest loss (300,000 hectares per year). A forest policy framework that promotes sustainable charcoal production and meets the livelihood demands of rural people is therefore essential.