Charcoal back in vogue; as some LPG users can no longer afford


To Ms. Lola, who owns and manages a provision store at Awoshie, a suburb of Accra, the days of using charcoal to cook for the family were long gone. It has been years, she says, and so it wasn’t surprising that she had to search her storeroom for hours before finding her coal pot when she went back to charcoal a couple of weeks ago.

But why did she go back? The answer lies in the sustained price increments in the alternative, Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG). Since the turn of the year, LPG prices have increased so much so that users are now forced to either switch to alternatives such as charcoal, or now purchase the fuel in bits when hitherto, they usually just fill up their cylinders.

Ms. Lola isn’t alone in this rather dire predicament. Many households the B&FT has spoken to have expressed similar frustrations with regards to the rising price of LPG.

Gladys, a single mother with three children, who also lives at Awoshie, said: “I own one of these small cylinders, but I have not filled it in a while. It is hard to fend for me and my three children, especially my little boy because I sell pure water on the street. So for me, anytime I am ready to cook, I get at least GH¢3 charcoal, and I am able to cook. Using charcoal is stressful but that is what I am able to afford due to the price of the LPG”.

In January, a kilogram of LPG sold at GH¢8.93, which meant the regular 14.5kg cost GH¢129.49 to fill. In May, the same kilogram was selling at GH¢11.18, translating into GH¢162.11 for the 14.5kg. Currently, it goes for GH¢170, and this does not include cost of transportation.

Meanwhile charcoal and wood fuels, unlike LPG, are readily available at various prices and sizes/weight in every neighbourhood across the country, which means that with the heightened economic situation, more people would opt for it as they look to cut down cost to cope with the tough times.

Commenting on this during the launch of a pilot study on ‘Promoting ethanol as a clean cooking alternative in Ghana’, Executive Director of Africa Centre for Energy Policy (ACEP), Benjamin Boakye, said the switch back to charcoal will draw back the progress being made toward clean fuels.

“Already, people have started switching to charcoal and wood fuels for cooking, and that raises the need to look at others that can be domesticated. The dependence on the global commodity market has implications for how sustainable the use of LPG and other fossil-based sources that are considered to be cleaner are. We need to consider alternatives locally that we can use instead of going back to wood fuels.

“We are going to create a bigger market for charcoal and fire wood; so it is a real danger. With the kind of price scenario we are seeing currently, if we don’t get some solution and some alternatives immediately, we may see many people switching from LPG to wood fuels,” he said.

The country, in 2017, set a national goal to ensure more than half of the population use LPG for cooking by 2030 instead of the traditional wood fuels which have endured generations. However, with rising cost of LPG due to happenings on the international crude market and depreciation of the cedi, there are fears that the worst is yet to come thus putting the government’s goal, as well as the United Nation Sustainable Development Goal Seven, in jeopardy.

On the other hand, the World Health Organisation also estimates that about 4 million deaths occur annually due to indoor air pollution-related diseases. These diseases include pneumonia, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and lung cancer.

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