1. COUNTRY BACKGROUND
The area of Liberia is 112,000 square kilometres, more than half of which is covered by natural forest. At the end of 1982 the population was estimated to be about two million, with 35% classified as urban. The economy was divided into two significant and quite discrete sectors, an enclave sector consisting of mining, forestry and rubber concessions dominated by multinational companies, and a subsistence agriculture sector. The latter supported more than 60% of the population and all-agricultural activities employed close to 64% of the work force. Industry and the service sector employed about 7% and 14% of the work force. Unemployment was estimated to be about 15% of the potential work force and perhaps as high as 30% in the urban areas. The enclave sectors were the main source of foreign exchange hence the global demand for Iron ore, and to a lesser extent rubber and timber, largely determined the economic performance of the modern sector. Iron ore mining alone accounted for about one-third of GDP, yet the links between this and others were weak, resulting in uneven distribution of the benefits of their production, and localised infrastructure development. According to the UNDP/World Bank Energy Commission, the estimated average per capita GNP in 1981 was US$ 520.00 whereas the enclave sector produced a per capita GDP of US$ 1,620.00 and the entire modern sector, US$ 780.00. These were in contrast with a per capita GDP of US$ 160.00 per year for the traditional sector.
Today, the seven years civil war has drastically changed the face of Liberia politically, socially and economically.
It is hard to believe now that the population is at two million; neither can we guarantee that it will reach two million for a shorter time after the war. The Iron ore mining enclaves no longer exist, leaving only the forestry and the agriculture sector to shoulder the weight of unemployment. The public sector, which is now the largest employer in the urban centres but remains a smaller percentage in the commercial sector, reduces the weight of unemployment. Nevertheless, this is done at a very slow pace compared to the population in the urban centres. The rate of unemployment increases daily as Liberians return home from neighbouring countries, and this can be put at about 65-70% in the urban area, and 40-50% at the rural level respectively. There are very few Liberians who are accommodated in the gold and diamond mining sectors, leaving the rest to find alternative means to survive. This implies there is great pressure on mangrove forests and rubber plantations in the urban areas as well the rainforests in the rural sector of the country. Thus, the massive supply of woodfuel and other minor forest products becomes a means of responding to these pressures from unemployment and household energy demand.
1.1. Woodfuel resources in Liberia
Liberia has a forest cover of more than 80% of its landscape and in gross terms, the annual production of fuel quality bio-mass substantially exceeds demand. However, woodfuel demand is national particularly in the urban centres. Monrovia, which is gradually growing at the rate of 4 - 5 percent per year after the civil war, upsetting the previous growth rate of 5 - 6 percent per year between 1983 - 1993 as reported by the Energy Commission.
In the urban sectors of the economy, mostly Monrovia and other sub-cities, charcoal dominates the household energy market and hence with higher efficiency of conversion from wood to charcoal.
Similarly, in the hinterland, the demand for fuelwood (Firewood) has grown rapidly in response to the gradual growth of the population. This has been at the expense of the rainforest. Between 1983 and 1993, the Energy Commission estimated biomass fuel at 69% of final consumption of which was 8% of charcoal for the urban household market, and 61% for the rural consumption market. Although the population has decreased, the need for woodfuel in the household market is increasing rapidly in the absence of other sources of household energy supply such as kerosene, cooking gas and electricity, etc. This also has consequences on the costs attached to these commodities thus putting aggregate consumption at 94% in the household energy sector.
1.2. Charcoal production 1994 - 1998
Firewood and charcoal production and supply are generally managed by a large number of Liberian smallholders and entrepreneurs. Despite the constraints of traditional technology and poor transport infrastructure, the market is supplied adequately and efficiently. The provision and supply of these commodities have become a major industry and commercial activities in most parts of the country, mostly the urban sector. Besides accommodating household energy needs, about 35 percent of former industrial workers and ex-combatants now residing in Liberia have engaged in charcoal production and trade as means of survival in the private sector.
The role of government in woodfuels supply should therefore be in support of the private sector by providing incentives to use the most economic woodfuel resources and to upgrade the efficiency of conversion methods from wood to charcoal as it is practised in other African or third world countries.
For example, the carbonisation of retired rubber trees should be highly promoted as an integral part of the rehabilitation of the small holder rubber industry and the poor majority of the population who are unemployed, yet seeking employment. In addition, more efficient metal kilns and charcoal stoves offer some prospect of reducing pressure on the remaining closed native forests which are within reach of the major urban areas and should therefore be encouraged to be specific as it is done in Ghana.
Of the two major sources of charcoal production in Liberia (rubber trees and the rain forest) coal produced from the rubber tree comprises the higher volume of supply to Monrovia and most urban cities between 1983-1993. About 10-15% is believed to have come from the University forest plantation, and 20-25% from the nearby native mangrove and community forests in Montserrado county and surrounding areas. Recent estimates put us to about 60-70% between 1993-1996 due to inaccessibility of the tropical rain forest to charcoalers during the war. Today, for the reasons given above, one can really consider the carbonisation process to cover up about 80-90% and this may be more if the present trend of lack of electricity, high gas-oil prices and higher costs of kerosene continue in the consuming household market. However, the carbonisation of fuel-wood into charcoal is been distributed (see table 1) at sub-national level (county level) base upon some influential factors such as the level of security in the area concern, the level of demand, assets to alternative sources of household energy, and the accessibility to roads network etc.
- ECONOMIC COST OF PRODUCTION
The production of charcoal has economic costs attached despite the use of earthened kilns by charcoalers after the war in all localities. The costs of producing coal from the rubber tree and the natural forest is summarised in Table 2. While the financial incentives for charcoal producers favour the carbonisation of forest wood with returns to labour of about $250. /day as compared with $175/day for charcoalers producing from rubber tree. But the aggregate income incentives to rubber wood coal maker is marginally higher than the cost of producing charcoal from forest wood for the following reasons:
Rubber wood charcoal is plentiful in the market than the charcoal made out of the rainforest,
The mass production is due to nearness to main all weathers roads as compared to forest roads that are inaccessible at certain time of the year, and
The cost by distance to transport rubber tree coal is shorter than forest tree coal. Yet, the forest tree charcoal is favour because of its more heating capacity, which means, less coal can prepare better meal as compared to a rubber tree coal, which is quick in transforming to ashes during cooking.
At national level, it has been estimated and proven that whatsoever is carbonated is likely consumed (see Table 3) by the household market. Nevertheless, Monrovia, the largest consuming centre has been supplied by its satellite communities such as Bomi, Cape Mount, Margibi and Grand Bassa Counties respectively (see table 1) due to the level of its demanding capacity, and the economic interest charcoalers attached to the sale of the commodity. Though the country was politically dichotomised between 1990 and 1995, the production and supply of charcoal were considered unaffected. Liberians as well as foreigners including the army (ECOMOG) were trading the commodities of coal and fire wood regularly, except that in the South-Eastern region where production and consumption have been always lower as compared to other areas.
1.3. Fuel (fire wood) production and supply 1994 - 1998
With the exception of very few people in Monrovia, who have access to electricity from private generators, all Liberians use fuelwood. According to report No.5279-LBR of the UNDP/World Bank Energy Commission, about over 175,000 cubic meters were estimated as household consumption between 1983-1993 in Monrovia. Again, about 30% of this figure came from the rubber industrial sector, while 70% was supplied from the rainforest. Today, though it is not known precisely how much rubber tree wood is supplied to the other urban and industrial markets, the Firestone Company’s own consumption can be used as a guide to the internal consumption of the rubber industry. With preliminary estimates of fuelwood used by the manufacturing sector, it is most likely to believe that consumption doubled over the years. The 69% as predicted by previous researchers, has been increased of about 25% from 1993 to 1998. As the nation move gradually towards normality, the consumption of firewood by household increased simultaneously. The buck of wood supplied to rural households (see Table 4) has been provided by the rain forest throughout the years. This consumption does not have any negative effect on the rainforest since the carbonisation of wood is limited in those rural sectors.