Roundup: Kenya grapples with low timber, charcoal supply as gov’t saves forests

NAIROBI, March 8 (Xinhua) — Kenyans are facing a shortage of timber and charcoal as the government moves to save forests from depletion.

The government placed a three-month ban on logging and charcoal burning two weeks ago at the height of a biting dry spell that had led to major water crisis across the country.

The move was not only to protect forests but also water catchment areas and save the country from sliding into a desert.

The ban has been followed by the launch of nationwide tree planting campaign as the East African nation seeks to plant 235 million trees in the next five years to raise forest cover to 15 percent.

Kenyans have lauded the two developments but they have to contend with higher timber and charcoal prices.

In the capital Nairobi, the price of a bag of charcoal has increased sharply from an average of 20 U.S. dollars a bag in the last one week to between 22 dollars and 25 dollars.

Traders blame the increase on the ban on logging and charcoal trade in some counties, with the restrictions putting their businesses at risk.

“There is no charcoal. Supply has dropped drastically because of the ban on logging,” Moses Ngunjiri, a charcoal trader in Komarock on the east of Nairobi, said Thursday.

He noted that he bought his last stock of 50 bags a week ago and had to look for a different supplier.

“Before the ban, I would buy the produce from Narok but last week I sourced from Kajiado, and the trader told me the product had come from Tanzania through the Namanga border point,” he said.

However, while he remains optimistic, he is aware that he may be forced to close the business due to the shortage. He is currently selling a bag of the product at 23 dollars, up from 20 dollars.

The high prices have hit harder households and businesses like food kiosks that rely on charcoal and firewood for cooking.

“I have no choice but to switch to cooking gas which is expensive because both supplies of charcoal and firewood is low. We are buying a bag of charcoal more expensively than that of a 13kg cooking gas cylinder, which goes at 19 dollars,” said Simon Mwale, a food kiosk operator.

For households, low and middle-income families that rely on charcoal for cooking have turned to kerosene, whose prices have equally risen to 0.76 dollars per liter.

Charcoal is used by thousands of people, with the high demand for the fuel remaining the biggest threat to forests in the East African nation as tree cover stands at less than 10 percent. The ban has, therefore, created a ripple effect as the shortage is felt far and wide.

For timber, the favorite trees include cypress, blue gum, mahogany, and gravellia. They are sold in sizes ranging from 4 by 2 inches, 3 by 2 inches, 8 by 1 inches and 6 by 1 inches and round polls.

Initially, prices ranged from 0.34 dollars per foot to 0.70 dollars but a survey showed they have risen to 0.50 dollars and 0.90 dollars.

But even as they grapple with the shortage, Kenyans support the ban noting that it is the only way to improve forest cover and stop the country from becoming a desert.

Like charcoal, traders have resorted to importing the timber from Tanzania. Latest statistics from Forest Department in the Ministry of Environment show that Kenya spends up to 40 million dollars annually on timber imports, mainly from Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo to meet rising demand that stands at more than 40 million cubic meters annually.

Environment minister Keriako Tobiko on Wednesday said the country would set a tree planting day to boost forest cover.

“We plan to have a day set aside for National Tree Planting season sometime in April depending on the availability of rain,” he said.