Africa is losing its forests at an alarming rate mainly because 70% of the continent's population use wood as their principal source of energy for cooking. Attempts to stop this practice have failed as for most people, there has been no viable alternative to wood. But nature itself has provided the solution--bamboo. Francis L Sackitey reports on how African countries are turning to this plant to save their forests without losing their main source of cooking fuel.
AMONG THE NUMEROUS HUMAN activities that cause climate change in Africa is the cutting of trees for charcoal. It is estimated that in sub-Saharan Africa, 70% of the people cook their meals over wood fires. Thus the very poorest cut down trees for cooking fuel while those slightly less poor buy charcoal made from wood in those same forests.
According to Environmental News Network, ENN, every year Africa loses forest cover equal to the size of Switzerland. Terence Sunderland, a senior scientist at the Indonesia-based Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), said that in Southern Africa, even trees that can be used for fine carving, such as ebony and rosewood, are being cut down and made into charcoal. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says that Africa is losing more than 4m hectares (9.9m acres) of forest every year--twice the world's average deforestation rate.
Apart from the deforestation that wood cutting causes, the burning of wood also releases the carbon stored inside. And deforestation, according to scientists, accounts for at least a fifth of all carbon emissions globally, which is a serious health hazard.
Burning wood also has a significant impact on the climate. Scientists predict that the burning of wood fuel by African households would release the equivalent of 6.7bn tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by 2050.
In terms of health, the burning of fuel wood claims the lives of an estimated 2m people every year mostly women and children who inhale the smoke, according to data from the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR). Continued widespread indoor use of forest wood charcoal as a household fuel could cause 10m premature deaths by 2030.
Dealing with the problem
Realising the consequences of tree cutting and the use of charcoal in Africa, many African countries are coming together with the help of international bodies to deal with the problem. One of the solutions being offered is the use of bamboo charcoal as...