Planting trees for sustainable charcoal production in Sierra Leone

Nov 22, 2016

Photo: Women brushing weeds and planting trees for sustainable charcoal production at Makolerr village ©Kappia/UNDP Sierra Leone

Makolerr village lies in the Koya Chiefdom of the Port Loko District in Sierra Leone, a two-hour drive from the capital Freetown. The district is well known for its charcoal production, which is an important source of livelihood for many of the local communities. It is estimated that 60% of household income in Makolerr is generated from charcoal and firewood production. 

The charcoal sector is one of the main contributors to deforestation and land degradation in Sierra Leone. The majority of the rural households prefer charcoal for cooking, because it is affordable and more efficient than fuel wood, as well as easier to use and transport. Even in urban households, some women still prefer to cook on traditional stoves with charcoal, as electricity supplies are unreliable and not many people are used to cooking with gas stoves.  

The Port Loko District has already lost large parts of its previous forest cover due to charcoal production. At the present rates, the pressure on Sierra Leone’s forests will increase even further as communities continue to produce more charcoal to meet growing consumer demands. Some charcoal producers specifically target hardwood species of high commercial export value, resulting in an economically inefficient use of forest resources.

In support of the Government, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) works with rural communities to establish woodlots for environmentally sustainable production of fast-growing trees for conversion into charcoal. Community-based agroforestry is relatively new approach in Sierra Leone, and is promoted with support from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security.

Saskia Marijnissen, Team Leader of UNDP’s Energy, Environment and Natural Resource Management Cluster, says “the advantages of this approach are that the communities take ownership from the onset, and decisions about which trees or crops to plant are driven by their own needs and preferences, while at the same time integrating scientific knowledge and ensuring environmental sustainability.” 

The traditional leader of the Koya Chiefdom, Paramount Chief Bomboli II, was trained as a forester and is his enthusiasm for the community-based agroforestry initiative is contagious. The communities allocated a total of 60 hectares of their land to pilot agroforestry, and have so far planted 24 hectares with seedlings.  

As women are actively involved in the charcoal business, both as producers and end-users, they are directly affected by deforestation and land degradation. The project places strong emphasis on women’s empowerment by actively integrating them in decision-making processes and supporting them to improve their livelihoods. At the request of the women, agricultural crops including sweet potatoes, cassava, peanuts, cashew, and oil palms, are mixed with the trees intended for charcoal production so that they will have diversified diets and continuous income. 

To ensure ownership and sustainability, the planting of seedlings and maintenance of the agroforestry plots is done with support from existing community groups. Mrs. Hawanatu Kamara, 48, leads the Tamareneh Community Group, which has planted over 13,000 tree seedlings in one of the pilot sites at Makolerr.  “We are happy for this project,” Hawanatu said. “Our voices are heard and our decisions are respected. This is why the entire village is here.”

This is part of UNDP’s work to facilitate environmental sustainability, reinforce and support   livelihoods and empowerment of vulnerable people, especially youth and women.

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