By Mariane Almeida and Sofia Barbeiro*
In Mozambique’s province of Gaza, 9,240 tons of charcoal are produced every year placing pressure on the region’s natural resources. Wood burning for charcoal production has led to high rates of deforestation.
Unfortunately, what is happening in the Gaza province mirrors a nationwide trend. Data from the Global Forest Watch show that Mozambique has lost nearly 3 million hectares – or 10 per cent – of its forests since 2000.
The UNDP project on Adaption in the Coastal Zones of Mozambique reported that natural resource pressures are threatening biodiversity, damaging essential ecosystems, aggravating climate change and destabilizing livelihoods.
If current rates of deforestation continue, the population of Mozambique will endure increasingly uncertain environmental and economic conditions.
As much as 80 per cent of the population still rely on wood and charcoal to provide fuel for essential activities, such as cooking. Feliciano dos Santos, Executive Director of a local development and environmental protection NGO called ESTAMOS, claimed that high energy prices are one of the key reasons why curbing deforestation is so complicated.
“Since gas is expensive, people end up using charcoal, and the problem is that large areas of forest are being cleared without replacement of trees.” What more, energy costs are on an upward trend, which means the country will need to find sustainable, affordable fuel alternatives to reduce the economic demand for wood.
Several organizations in Mozambique are responding to this by inspiring change at community level. Sebastião Coana, from Palmeira, Maputo, has established an ecological charcoal production industry named Eco-carvão Moz.
The charcoal is made from coconuts and is more affordable than its traditional counterpart, offering a viable fuel alternative to vulnerable communities.
This start-up company has also introduced innovative production techniques such as biomass processing, which reduces waste by recycling processed materials. By reducing demand on wood, Sebastião Coana hopes they can reduce the rate of deforestation while stimulating local economies with a new generation of jobs.
Similarly, ESTAMOS – based in Niassa Province, northern Mozambique – is tackling deforestation and climate change through several community-based initiatives using innovation and education. The organization focuses on water, sanitation and hygiene, sustainable farming practices, and organizational training.
One of its initiatives is promoting the use of wood-saving stoves for more efficient use of charcoal for cooking. This reduces the demand for wood for fuel, relieving pressure on local forests. The organization has also successfully educated several communities in Niassa on conservation and promoted awareness of the Climate Change Adaptation Plans, a government-supported initiative to build a society more resilient to natural disasters.
ESTAMOS also supports committees for natural resource management – regional organizations that receive funding to tackle environmental degradation. These independent committees give agency to local communities and raise their voice to influence decision-making at a wider level.
Besides, ESTAMOS trains these committees in financial resource management to maximize the impact of their investments on sustainable development. This plays a vital role in building communities that are resilient to climate change and natural disasters.
The two writers are part of a team of Young Environmental Journalists covering Africa.