Demand for charcoal still high

As the sun slowly glides along the horizon and sets in the West, the main neighbourhood charcoal-grilled tilapia and banku ‘joint’ in Ashaley Botwe, a suburb of Accra, comes alive.

Smoke from the charcoal-filled grilling stands slowly disperse into the atmosphere, bringing with it the welcoming smell of freshly grilled tilapia. Dozens of customers queue to buy the spicy tilapia and banku every evening.

This is just one of the many set-ups that serve the charcoal-grilled tilapia and banku every evening in the capital Accra and other major towns and cities across the country that is helping to keep the business of charcoal production alive.

Charcoal production is a major source of income for small holder farmers in rural Ghana. But its negative impact on the environment has forced successive governments to find ways of getting more households to switch to the use of gas for cooking. Unfortunately, the adoption rate has been rather slow.

Indeed, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimate that about 80% of Ghanaians still use charcoal for cooking.

A charcoal trader, who prefers to remain anonymous, standing by KIA pick-up truck heavily loaded with charcoal, told the B&FT that the preference for charcoal grilled tilapia and banku in major urban areas is keeping the business of charcoal production alive.

“We are coming from Damongo. A sack of charcoal (standard size) is now selling for GH₵35. Though the price has gone up a bit, there is still demand for it. People buy to grill tilapia for sale or to cook banku at home, something they cannot do in large quantity on their gas cookers,” he said.

Charcoal, which is made but cutting down fully grown tress and burning it for days to obtain the bye  product—crispy pieces of burnt wood—largely  for cooking and, in some limited instances, for medicinal purposes, has been a major cause of the accelerating rate of deforestation in the country.

Forest degradation rate

The FAO, as part of its State of the World’s Forests 2016 (SOFO) Ghana study noted that the country had a total forest area of 8,627,402 ha in 1990 and 9,195,137 in 2010 has gone through varying rates of degradation over the 25 years between closed and open forest.

From 1990 – 2000 Ghana closed forest degraded by 387,256 ha and 531,364 ha from 2000 – 2010. Between 2000 and 2010, the closed forest reduced from 2,317166 ha to 1,785,802. ha.

Closed forest is depreciating at the rate of 192,648ha per 5 years. Ghana’s open forest on the other hand expanded by 668,462ha from 1990 – 2000 and 817,894ha from 2000 – 2010.

Since 1990, the forest degradation rate is 45,931.ha per annum. Thus whiles there is an expansion in forest area as a result of plantations development in forest and non-forest lands, the density of forest cover is reducing giving way to a reducing close forest cover and an increasing open forest cover.

This, is mainly attributable to logging in forest reserves and conversion of forest in the off reserves for agricultural and domestic purposes.

Cylinder recirculation model the answer?

Government, in October 2017, introduced the Cylinder Recirculation Model following a gas explosion at Atomic Junction in Accra, which resulted in the death of 7 people and injuries to about 132 others.

Among other stringent measures to ensure safety in the handling of petroleum products, the NPA was issued a directive to implement the Gas Recirculation Model within a year.

The construction of many gas depots for the eventual take-off of the project is expected to led to availability of LPG gas in many other locations than currently exist.  The outstanding issue is the ability of poor households to purchase LPG for domestic use.