A Mozambican forester with business cards printed on the flipside of used calendars and posters to save trees has lamented Malawians’ appetite for charcoal smuggled from his country.
Joaquim Armando Macuacua, head of mapping and data management in Mozambique’s National Directorate of Forestry, said the illegal charcoal trade calls for joint action to stop massive deforestation along the porous border.
Communities in the border strip are constantly bombarded by sights of trucks and bicycles hauling the ‘black gold’ destined for the southern half of Malawi.
To Professor Sostein Chiotha, executive director of Leadership for Environment and Development in Southern and Eastern Africa (Lead-Sea), the influx of imported charcoal confirms that Malawi is running out of indigenous trees that once produced good charcoal.
But Macuacua said in an interview during the global climate talks in Madrid, Spain, that deforestation will only worsen both countries’ vulnerability to harsh effects of climate change unless they cooperate to combat overdependence on fuelwood for cooking.
He stated: “Our government wants to come up with a forestry policy to address charcoal exports. We hope that after strengthening the policy and sensitising the people to alternatives, we can slow down this. But our countries need to work together to combat deforestation.
“It is not easy to stop this trade singlehandedly because people take advantage of not having a clear boundary. You just walk and then you feel that now I’m in Malawi or now I’m in Mozambique. Another thing is that people of the two countries speak the same languages and hardly can we identify who is who.”
During the 25th Conference of Parties (COP25) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the Spanish capital, the Mozambican forestry official gave a talk on how satellite images are easing the monitoring of the waning forest in southern Africa.
He said views from the space have confirmed severe reductions in Mozambique’s forest cover due to the rapidly growing population’s desperate search for fuelwood as well as new farmland and settlements.
“Charcoal production is hard labour, but people keep chopping and burning trees due to poverty. Government is taking the necessary steps to provide sustainable and alternative sources of income and cooking energy. This will take time because the demand for charcoal is high in Mozambique and neighbouring country,” he explained.
Malawi faces a similar dilemma, with just over a tenth of the population having access to electricity and 97 percent cooking using fuel wood.
The Department of Forestry in Lilongwe estimates that up to three in every 100 trees vanish every year, the worst deforestation rate in southern Africa.
The hugely deforested region has been hit hard by floods,
drought and other disastrous weather shocks attributed to climate change.
In March this year, floods caused by Cyclone Idai killed over 602 people in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Stella Gama, director of forestry in Lilongwe, said Capital Hill has requested Maputo for a joint meeting to discuss ways of tackling the illicit cross-border trade in charcoal.
“When we get a response from our colleagues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, it will be very good to sit down with our Mozambican counterparts and come up with joint efforts to stop this trend,” she said on the sidelines of COP25.
Gama pledged continued raids on trucks carrying charcoal across borders.
“Despite lack of capacity to monitor charcoal business. We will continue confiscating charcoal bags whether they are from Mozambique or Zambia. We will not relent because the forests we are losing in this region have an impact on climate change, rain formation and biodiversity,’ she said.
Malawi has adopted a national charcoal strategy which promotes cooking using fuel-saving cookstoves, liquefied petroleum gas and licensed charcoal production from trees one plants. However, it does not put a deadline to unsustainable use of firewood and charcoal fuelled by widespread poverty and exclusion from grid power.