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Long Maligned for Deforestation, Charcoal Emerges from the Shadows

“We have various financial obligations that push us to charcoal making. Top on the list is farming inputs and school fees,” explains Arclay Moonga, a charcoal producer and chairperson of the recently formed Choma District Charcoal Association in Southern Zambia.

His statement validates a popular belief among the locals here that charcoal is their own version of Automated Teller Machines, or ATMs.

Due to high demand, charcoal offers guaranteed cash income, adds 47-year-old Moonga. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Forestry and Farm Facility (FFF) programme, this belief captures one of the main challenges to forests in Zambia, where small-scale farmers and charcoal producers have long been seen as the main reasons behind the country’s increasing deforestation and forest degradation problems.

In a country where forest land accounts for 59 percent of the total area, boasting at least 220 tree species, containing 3,178 million square meters as growing stock, 2.74 billion tons of biomass, and 1.34 billion tons of carbon, the deforestation rate is alarmingly high, currently at 276,021 hectares per year.

By Friday Phiri

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