The National Charcoal Union of Liberia (NACUL) has embarked on a pilot project called “Sustainable Charcoal Production”.
Organized on December 23, 2014, NACUL is a community-based organization (CBO) of charcoal producers and sellers in Liberia.
The project was launched on Saturday, May 2, 2015, at the Sinje Multipurpose Community Center in Sinje, Grand Cape Mount County, bringing together charcoal producers from across the county and other stakeholders.
Speaking at the program, NACUL President, Richard T. A. Dorbor, said the yearlong (May 1, 2015-April 2016) project is intended to mobilize and create awareness to strengthen the capacity of charcoal producers and sellers in the five districts of Grand Cape Mount.
According to Dorbor, the program is being funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in collaboration with Farm Forest Facility (FFF).
He observed that the charcoal sector is being neglected as people engaged in charcoal activities are considered insignificant, despite the energy charcoal provides for larger portion of the Liberian population.
“The charcoal sector has been neglected for years. People in this sector are considered poor people; even consumers are not taking the sector serious, as we provide energy to many Liberians,” the Charcoal Union boss indicated.
Dorbor said, to change this mentality, the Union decided to assist charcoal producers and sellers to organize them in finding the sustainable and efficient way as well as alternative sources.
Quoting a GTZ 2009 Report, Dorbor said Monrovia alone uses four million bags of charcoal yearly; adding that the number might have increased to five or six million bags yearly now.
This, he said, raises the question as to where the wood will come from for charcoal in four to five years when all of the trees shall be been cleared.
Against this backdrop, Dorbor said the project is aimed at educating charcoal producers and sellers on how to identify their basic needs and encourage them for sustainable production as well as forest management.
Dorbor was quick to note that the project is not intended to stop charcoal production activities; but to assist those involved with productions and sales in the modernized and sustainable way.
He named tree-planting for charcoal production as the major sustainable way, which he said will also minimize deforestation.
At the same, Dorbor disclosed plans to introduce a new method of production which will minimize environmental pollution as well as prevent losses by the traditional production method.
Launching the project was the head of Region-I of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Mrs. Ruth Varney, who praised organizers of the Charcoal Union and urged producers to embrace the idea.
The FDA official also stressed the need for charcoal burners to assist in the forest management so that their upcoming generation will not suffer, adding, “You must not just cut down the trees and leave the land clear, do something on it like planting.”
She said: “As we launch this program today, we advise that you put yourselves together. This is self-employment; therefore, please use the forest in a sustainable way.”
Grand Cape Mount County Representative Marbu Sonii was expected to launch the project, but he was absent due to an official engagement.
Also making remarks, the Chairman of the Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD), Paul L. George, spoke of the need for charcoal producers to be watchful of detractors who may want to politicize the project to undermine its goals.
Alex Balo, civil society organizations (CSOs) Grand Cape Mount County Coordinator, lauded the efforts of the Union for the idea in bringing together coal producers.
Balo, however, underscored the importance for the Union to work closely with charcoal producers if its dream must come true.
Meanwhile, charcoal producers at the occasion embraced the idea and vowed to mobilize their colleagues in the county to become part of the process.
According to them, coming together under the umbrella of the union will address some of the problems they (charcoal producers) face.
“We have been suffering in the coal business for long and so we are happy for the people to put us together. People can take our coal for ‘sell pay’ and when they go we can’t see some of them again. So, I thank the union for bringing us together to take this problem from us,” Jebbeh Senwan, the chairlady of Garwulor District, who is also a charcoal producer, said.
Junior Fahnbulleh, another charcoal producer of Massaquoi Town, said: “Coal burning is a difficult work for me; but I have to do it because it is through this that I pay my school fees.” At times, he said, he loses because he buys gas for power saw to cut his logs and he hires people to cover the wood with dirt; and after all, he might not realize the money spent.