WINDHOEK – The Namibian charcoal industry last year recorded more growth, earning
N$184.8 million from N$168 million in 2016, making Namibia the fifth largest exporter of charcoal in the world.
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 within the next few years. There are about 240 active producers, 6,000 people employed both directly and indirectly. The annual production is about 85,000 – 100 000 tonnes of which 99 percent is for barbeque. Although Namibia has a growing charcoal industry, local demand is insignificant compared to exports with firewood still dominating barbeque.
After production, 50 percent of charcoal is packed into 50kg bags and exported to the Republic of South Africa (RSA). Methods of productions are labour intensive and working conditions are often not satisfactory. The regulatory framework is not robust enough to stop illegal harvesting, nor strengthen permit regulations and these increases the problem of lack of business orientation, quality consciousness and long marketing chains. The industry, if well-regulated, could potentially employ 20 000 people and an extra 2 000 in other parts of the value chain. It has a lower investment requirement, especially with inputs such as water and electricity.
The world market is also increasingly under supplied and Namibia’s industry can fill this niche with possible production estimates around 100 000 – 400 000 tonnes in 10 years. Considering the environmental sustainability, a suitable legislative framework for workers, farmers, producers and the economy will be advisable.
Research shows that the charcoal industry is one of the booming sectors in Namibia. This is also a sector which is highly contested due to its nature of production (i.e. safety of workers and environmental and social impact). Moreover, the industry plays a critical role in de-bushing, and it is forecast that with its growth up to 200 000 hectares could be de-bushed annually. To date, a report containing the recommendations of a pilot of new/improved technology exists, which started in January 2017. This is a very special and important event designed to create camaraderie and involvement among all role-players in the charcoal and wood industry. One of the key objectives is to improve current steel drum kiln technology to reduce smoke emission, reduce health risks as well as improving 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.