MANGO trees and other fruit-bearing tree species have never been on the list of endangered vegetation being deforested by illegal tree harvesters for whatever reason, let alone for charcoal production.
Nonetheless, there is a unique development in one of Zambia’s major charcoal producing hubs – Kapiri Mposhi district in Central Province.
Here, some charcoal producers have resorted to cutting down mango trees for charcoal production for various reasons.
The major reason is that of massive deforestation that has almost wiped out the nearby trees for charcoal production.
The other cause is the high demand for charcoal on the urban and peri-urban markets of Lusaka and the Copperbelt.
The escalating demand for the commodity is said to have been necessitated by the drop in temperatures experienced across the country in the months of June and July this year, coupled with high electricity tariffs.
Charcoal manufacturing business is rife around the traditional production centre of Kapiri Mposhi, where charcoal sacks of different sizes are piled up for sale along the Great North Road.
The activity has ravaged surrounding forests of the district as testified by Michael Kangulu, a 48-year-old seasoned charcoal producer.
As a result of massive sustained deforestation over the years, charcoal producers have now resorted to cutting down mango trees, and heaping the logs into kilns to produce charcoal.
“The trees have finished in the forests within Kapiri Mposhi. Other charcoal producers now even go to other districts of Mkushi and Serenje, where there are still trees,” he said. “But some of us are now cutting down mango trees to satisfy the charcoal demand on the market,” Mr Kangulu said.
On the type of targeted mango trees, he says charcoal producers go for the very old trees that have almost become unfruitful.
During this winter, Mr Kangulu swanks to have produced about 350 of 90kg bags of charcoal, commonly known as green label among charcoal sellers.
He sells the charcoal between K280 and K300 each to retailers, mainly from Lusaka and the Copperbelt.
Roselyn Chibwe, a Kapiri Mposhi fruit and vegetable trader, fears that charcoal producers may end up clearing up fruitful mango trees.
She says doing so will disadvantage traders like herself who depend on the sale of fruits for their livelihood.
“Charcoal is a business that so many people survive on and it has been there for a very long time, but cutting down mango trees to make charcoal will create a shortage of mangoes for us traders. The authorities should regulate the charcoal industry,” Ms Chibwe said.
Kapiri Mposhi District Commissioner Smart Mwila said he was not aware that charcoal producers had resorted to cutting down mango trees.
“I will get back to you after undertaking a fact-finding mission to ascertain what is going on,” Mr Mwila said.
For Lusaka-based charcoal traders like Jackson Sikaonga, there is currently a favourable market for charcoal business.
Mr Sikaonga, who is married with four children, has been a small-scale charcoal trader since 2013. He operates on Lusaka’s Makishi Road around Chilulu market.
His merchandise is supplied from the charcoal hub in Kapiri Mposhi district.
Per month, Mr Sikaonga buys an average of 20 (90kg) bags of charcoal from Kapiri Mposhi, some of which he sells in small quantities for about K10 and K20.
“A family can use charcoal for K20 for two days but electricity for K20 may not even last a day. People find charcoal to be more affordable and economical,” he says to stress the high demand for charcoal.
Mr Sikaonga says charcoal sells fast, although the supply of the commodity from the source does sometimes delay.
The erratic supply of the commodity has been necessitated by massive deforestation as charcoal producers now have to go far into the forests to find trees to use.
However, Mr Sikaonga feels sad that charcoal producers are now targeting mango trees for production.
He appeals to Government to provide soft loans to charcoal producers and traders to enable them to venture into other entrepreneurial activities and spare the environment from further devastation.
“It does not mean that if I am selling charcoal, then I cannot do anything else. All we want is help from Government so that we can do other businesses and continue supporting our families,” he said.
The Forest Act of 2015 provides that the Forestry Department, under the Ministry of Lands, in consultation with the Zambia Environmental Management Agency, need to take measures to safeguard protected species against extinction and also control and prevent the introduction of invasive alien species in forest areas.
However, the indiscriminate cutting down of trees in the forests has continued unabated.
From Zambia’s total land surface area of around 752,612 square kilometres, forests take up 60 percent of that portion.
Sadly, this forest cover is reducing at an alarming rate as trees are being cleared indiscriminately for charcoal production and logging for timber. Other forests are being cleared to create farms and urban settlements.
According to recent data provided by the Centre for International Forestry Research, Zambia’s deforestation rate currently stands between 250,000 and 300,000 hectares annually. This puts the country at risk of becoming a desert in the next 15 years if no drastic measures are taken to stop deforestation.