Charcoal association to unite coal producers

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Staff Reporter

Windhoek-The highly contested yet vitally important Namibian charcoal industry is set to unite like never before under the umbrella of the newly formed Namibia Charcoal Association (NCA).

The NCA will have its annual general meeting on August 11 at Otjiwa Safari Lodge, Otjiwarongo. The AGM will be followed by a conference and expo to showcase the immense progress the industry has made since last year when the Support to De-bushing Project of the German In Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), in collaboration with the NCA, embarked on a pilot project to conduct a technical analysis of existing charcoal production technologies in Namibia and compare them to international best.

Research shows that the charcoal industry, producing Namibia’s very own “black gold,” is one of the booming sectors in the country. This is also a sector that is highly contested due to the nature of the production process (i.e. safety of workers and environmental and social impacts).

Currently, Namibia is the fifth largest exporter of charcoal in the world, and according to reports the industry exports about N$200 million worth per year.

The sector employs between 5,000 and 6,000 workers, and experts forecast a four-fold growth that could lead to the creation of between 15,000 and 20,000 jobs. Moreover, the industry plays a critical role in de-bushing, and it is forecast that with the growth of the industry up to 200,000 hectares could be de-bushed annually.

To date, a report containing the recommendations for a pilot of new/improved technology exists, which started in January. This special and important event is designed to create camaraderie and involvement among all role-players in the charcoal and wood industry.

The latest GIZ report provides an overview of the existing charcoal kiln technology in Namibia and abroad in countries, such as Madagascar, Chad, Cameroon and Congo Brazzaville. The review focused on the provisions for health and the productivity of the charcoal production process. Both primary and secondary data were used to compile the report.

Meetings and discussions with charcoal industry stakeholders, together with field observations, highlighted a few aspects to be considered when designing a new charcoal production system. These aspects include a cleaner system that generates less smoke, improved carbonisation process and charcoal quality, small-scale and mobility of technology and reduced fire risk.

The report makes concrete suggestions towards the modernisation of charcoal production technology in Namibia, which allows for productivity increase, environmental improvement and other important standards.

The move to become a fully functioning and independent sector representative body last year was in part motivated by the growth of the sector, and due to the size and dynamics. The stakeholders aim to strengthen the NCA body to facilitate development going forward.

According to a GIZ spokesperson, the charcoal industry “currently plays the most important role in using and processing wood from de-bushing in Namibia,” making it a critical component of Namibia’s overall de-bushing strategy.

Twenty-six to 30 million hectares of Namibian farmland are estimated to be affected by bush encroachment, and some estimate that several billion Namibian dollars are going to waste, because of bush encroachment.

GIZ support to the charcoal industry is linked to a four-year project of bush control between the governments of Namibia and Germany. GIZ had pledged N$1,691,000 in financial and technical support, which will be focused on re-shaping the organisation structures of the NCA.

The aims is to implement pilot projects to improve production technologies and methodologies, developing a marketing strategy and establishing a national charcoal production standard. One of the key objectives is to improve current steel drum kiln technology to reduce smoke emission, reduce health risks, as well as improve charcoal conversion rates.

The industry also aims to expand and diversify target markets. Currently, the major markets for Namibian charcoal are South Africa, the United Kingdom, Angola, Greece and Germany. There are promising indications that the Middle East, as well as the Far East could become import partners.

The NCA works closely with government in this respect, specifically the Directorate of Forestry within the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry.

The industry started with three producers in the 1990s and has mushroomed to more than 350 registered producers today, but many estimate that there are close to 500 producers countrywide, with an estimated 50% producers from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.

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