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Fuelling Nairobi the importance of small-scale charcoaling enterprises

M. Kinyanjui

Maxwell Kinyanjui is affiliated with Agroenergy Ltd. Kenya. He was engaged by FAO to prepare a report on the charcoal enterprises serving Nairobi as part of FAO's expanding work on the developmental contributions of small-scale forest enterprises. This article is an edited version of his report.

Existing information indicates that the charcoal economy in Kenya, though hardly well documented or understood, is of strategic importance in terms of household energy supply, income generation and changes in land-use systems. Wood-fuel, and especially charcoal, can no longer be classified as "non-commercial". The fact is that charcoal has become a highly commercialized commodity that once earned Kenya substantial foreign exchange but that now is probably the leading foreign exchange saver in the country's energy section. The article describes the diversity and complexity of one example of small-scale enterprising at work.

NAIROBI charcoal supplies a quarter of Kenya's domestic urban energy

· No one knows exactly when charcoal became a popular household fuel in Kenya. But it seems to have become a common fuel with the advent of urbanization and the arrival of the traditional metal charcoal stove - the jiko - introduced about 60 years ago from India. According to information from charcoal-makers, charcoaling, especially in the coastal and central regions of Kenya, became an income-generating activity as far back as 1915 and was highly commercialized in the 1950s.

In subsequent decades, charcoal-making grew in magnitude and geographical spread as urbanization accelerated and country roads improved. The trade spread to the Rift Valley, Western Kenya and finally to remote arid and semi-arid zones of the northern region. Until the late 1970s, the raw materials for charcoal seemed inexhaustible, being ubiquitous and available at virtually no cost. Government forest reserves, open rangelands, upland watershed zones, and lowland semiarid areas became the main sources of the fuel.

Over the years, the key dynamic factors behind the expansion of the industry have been an accelerating urban growth, agricultural land clearing, and sector profitability, especially for dealers.

During the past 20 years, the contribution of charcoal to the nation's total energy consumption has grown to 6 percent and currently represents 26 percent of domestic consumption. Between 1975 and 1985 consumption of charcoal increased by an estimated 192 percent. To meet this demand, mainly from urban areas, over 40000 full-time and itinerant or intermittent charcoal-makers are involved in production. Fleets of lorries ferry the charcoal daily to urban centres, where a far-stretching yet uncharted network of dealers and retailers find full-time employment distributing the fuel to consumers. The demand for charcoal is now growing at 6.7 percent annually, nearly twice that for firewood.

Until 1975, when a ban on its export was imposed, charcoal earned foreign exchange for Kenya. Forestry Department records indicate that a total of 362693 tonnes worth KSh 240 million were exported between 1970 and 1974. Prior to the export ban a cement factory in Tororo, Uganda, was a main importer of Kenyan charcoal. The charcoal exported to external markets such as Kuwait (40 percent of total exports) and northern Europe was produced from coastal mangrove forests, but the resource was dwindling fast.

Though Kenya will not become a charcoal exporter again in the near future, the commodity will remain an important, and probably the leading, foreign exchange saver in the energy sector.

Charcoaling enterprises

Raw material production areas for Nairobi's charcoal supply normally fall within a radius of 118 km, although this distance has been known to reach 300 km during adverse conditions and occasional official restrictions in traditional production areas. The production system covers three major agro-ecological zones: the semi-arid low potential zone with less than 750 mm annual rainfall; the high potential highland zone receiving over 1000 mm of rainfall annually and the medium potential highland zone with 760900 mm of rainfall a year.

The small-scale, open-air, owner-operated wholesaling and retailing in Kenya's urban centres perhaps account for the largest number of full-time jobs in the entire charcoal industry.

Typically, the charcoaling enterprises in Kenya, and those supplying Nairobi in particular, are small-scale operations owned and managed by the skilled traditional earth mound kiln charcoal-burners. To date, these enterprises operate within the informal sector and remain understudied and ill-understood because of the itinerant, occasional and often clandestine nature of their operations. The charcoal-maker, to the environmental conservationists, has come to symbolize the agent of environmental destruction.

Limited surveys have been made in search of criteria for analysing these enterprises. Those sampled fell into three categories: small-scale enterprises producing fewer than ten bags per kiln cycle and mostly supplying local consumption with a small surplus sold at the roadside to city-bound consumers; medium-size enterprises producing ten to 100 bags per cycle and selling charcoal to Nairobi-based transporters; and large-scale enterprises yielding over 100 bags per cycle and having long-term supply contracts with specific Nairobi-based transporters.

The small-scale enterprises employ skilled charcoal-makers and one or two other people, usually from the charcoal-maker's family. Up to five unskilled workers are involved in a medium-sized charcoal-making operation, while a large one will provide employment for 15 or 20 people during a charcoaling cycle.

Among the sampled enterprises, 26 percent were small-scale; 64 percent were medium-scale, and 10 percent large-scale. The small- and medium-scale enterprises are located mostly in the low-potential zone while, as might be expected, the large-scale ones are in the high-potential zone. They can be further divided into full-time, seasonal and casual producers.

Full-time producers of charcoal are fast decreasing in number. Only 3 percent of those surveyed indicated that charcoal-making was their full-time occupation or the source of most of their income. Generally they are old hands with over ten years of charcoal-making experience. They mostly operate in the high-potential zone, procuring trees under government licensed forests or from privately owned woodlots.

Seasonal producers represented 78 percent of the sampled enterprises spread throughout the three main zones. Those involved engage in charcoal production when existing woodlots mature, or during drought or other crop failure. Some seasonal producers make charcoal when school fees for their children are due or whenever demands for cash income become pressing.

While full-time and seasonal production enterprises may use fairly "professional" production methods, casual or infrequent producers, representing 19 percent of the sample, normally employ makeshift techniques. Infrequent producers are operational in areas where new land clearing is occurring, and trees are available at little or no cost. While full-time and seasonal producers often initiate tree felling for charcoal-making, the casual or infrequent enterprise usually takes advantage of trees felled for other purposes.

In Kenya, charcoal production uses two primary techniques; the traditional earth mound kiln and the Missouri brick kiln. Charcoal produced in the Missouri brick kiln at the East African Tanning Extract Company plant in Eldoret amounts to 7000 or 8000 tonnes annually, but owing to long-haul transport costs, only an insignificant amount trickles into Nairobi. Charcoaling enterprises supplying Nairobi predominantly use the earth mound kiln which, according to the survey, centres on two types of production: the traditional earth mound, high yield, and the traditional earth mound, low yield.

The main distinction between these two is that the first type uses more efficient operational methods producing higher recoveries. The high-yield enterprises operate larger kilns - over 100 bags per kiln cycle and have much more biomass, such as grass or leaves available to allow better control of the carbonization process. The low-yield enterprises are located in the semi-arid charcoal production zones and are run by casual or itinerant charcoal-makers.

Though Kenya will not become a charcoal exporter again in the near future, the commodity will remain an important, and probably the leading, foreign exchange saver in the energy sector.

The enterprises supplying Nairobi can be classified according to the three resource production systems within which they operate: the self-regenerative raw material; the raw material salvaging and the raw material eradicative system.

Small - and medium-sized enterprises in the semi-arid and medium potential zones are largely occupied with raw material salvaging and eradication. The only self-regenerative production system of significance was noted in the high lands and used Acacia mearnsii and to a lesser degree Eucalyptus (see Table 1).

Table 1. High potential zone: trees for charcoal production

Local Name

Scientific name



Acacia mearnsii

E. Aberdares



E. Aberdares, Mt Kenya



Mwiga, Nyeri, Narok


Acacia seyal

Kitui, Machakos, Narok


Croton megalocarpus

Rift Valley, Machakos



E. Aberdares, Mt Kenya


Eucalyptus saligna

Molo, Narok



E. Aberdares, Nyahururu



Machakos, Chyulu

Source: Field surveys and interviews, 1985.

The levels of these charcoaling enterprises are not, however, necessarily mutually exclusive in their operational areas. For example, it is not uncommon to find a full-time or seasonal large-scale producer taking up a raw material salvaging system when the opportunity arises.

The majority of producers at all levels are also involved in other activities such as farming, cattle-keeping or hired labour. Production enterprises are not concerned with the transportation or sale of charcoal to Nairobi, activities mat would help them maximize their earnings.

Generally, then, the direct beneficiaries of incomes generated from charcoaling are tree-owners, the unemployed, the landless, and small-scale farmers or pastoralists. The District Produce Board and me Forest Department gain small revenues in cesses (taxes) and licenses. Firewood, commonly a byproduct in charcoaling, benefits local households.

There is no evidence of any trend toward formalizing the charcoaling enterprises. Participation by formal sector firms remains insignificant, and efforts to organize the industry into cooperatives are non-existent.

The enterprises supply the Nairobi market with charcoal sold either direct to truckers or in small quantities at roadsides to Nairobi-bound traffic. Full-time and seasonal producers rely mainly on the truckers as their customers. The charcoal transportation network that has taken shape constitutes a second type of enterprise important in Kenya's charcoal industry.

Transportation and distribution enterprise

The transportation of charcoal to Nairobi and its distribution to consumers occupies an unknown but large number of enterprising truckers, dealers, cyclists and even donkey-cart operators. Railways and private automobiles bring in smaller quantities. Before charcoal finally reaches its end-use in Nairobi, it goes through several modes of transport.

One is from the kiln to the roadside sale-point if trucks cannot drive to the kiln. Makers carry charcoal on their backs or use wheelbarrows. In some places, donkeys or donkey-carts are used. This transport is usually not thought of in monetary terms and is considered part of the producer's cost.

A second mode takes charcoal from the kiln or roadside points to Nairobi's wholesalers and retailers. Enterprises at this level have grown both in number and operation complexity. The usually old, privately owned trucks generally haul over 87000 tonnes of charcoal annually into Nairobi. Each truck usually employs a driver and two or three workers.

The average truck transports 200 to 250 bags of charcoal per trip, and about 60 percent of the trucks surveyed were involved full-time in transporting charcoal. A truck driver is also sometimes the dealer or an investor in the charcoal transported. The operation runs quite simply. The owner of the truck hires the driver, gives him a specific amount of money for fuel, licences and vehicle maintenance, then waits in Nairobi for the repayment of his capital plus a predetermined profit two or three days later.

The transportation of charcoal to consumers, after being dropped by long-haulers, is carried out by pushcarts - mkokoteni - and bicycles. Push-carts are normally used to transport as many as ten bags of charcoal from wholesale points to retail outlets. Bicycles, usually owned by wholesale charcoal-sellers, transport charcoal to restaurants, public institutions and fairly well-off households. Provision of door-to-door delivery service is one of the ways sellers compete with each other.

Wholesaling and retailing enterprises

The small-scale, open-air, owner-operated wholesaling and retailing in Kenya's urban centres perhaps account for the largest number of full-time jobs in the entire charcoal industry. In Nairobi, charcoal-selling enterprises are sited on public land, usually on road or street reserves, within residential areas of the city. Sellers are required to obtain a hawker's licence from the City Commission. A few have been allocated temporary licences for the pieces of land they occupy. Two levels of operation are identifiable: wholesalers who sell only whole bags of charcoal, and retailers who sell whole bags but commonly sell in smaller quantities measured in tins and other containers.

Table 2. Charcoal enterprises supplying Nairobi


Total employment per enterprise


Typical characteristics

Minimum start-up capital requirement

Major type

Main levels and size/output


Production frequency

Charcoaling enterprises

Small: fewer than 10 bags/kiln/cycle


By charcoal-maker

Earth mound kiln



Medium: up to 100 bags/kiln/cycle


By charcoal-maker

Earth mound kiln


KSh 700

Large: over 100 bags/kiln/cycle


By charcoal-maker


Seasonal and full-time

KSh 1000

Transportation and distribution enterprises

Transport/dealers Delivery of up to 1000 bags/month


By truck owner

Diesel trucks

Seasonal and full-time

KSh 60000

Bicycles & push-carts



Wholesaling and retailing enterprises

Sole wholesalers 500 bags/month.



Outdoor yards


KSh 5000

Wholesalers and retailers 194 bags/month




KSh 100

Source: Author's field survey, 1985.

Table 3. Acacia mearnsii. Estimated annual income from 1 ha woodlot in the highland zone over a seven-year cycle (in KSh, 1985)

Year of growth

Product harvested

Size (Basal diameter)


Average price/unit (KSh)

Estimated gross income (KSh)



2.8 cm






5.5 cm






8.0 cm






9.5 cm





4 stacks





11 cm






1.5 stacks






4 tonnes






5 stacks










270 bags




Source: Author's data and measurements obtained during a survey of woodlot owners and charcoal-makers, September 1985.

Of 50 charcoal-sellers surveyed in Nairobi, only 6 percent said that they were exclusively selling unbroken bags. These are usually people who run the business with two or three partners.

Retailer-wholesalers are more numerous, and men, women and children are employed. In some densely populated areas such as Kawangware, Kangemi and the Mathare Valley, over 95 percent of full-time charcoal-sellers are women, who sell from their doorsteps or on the pavement. Most are assisted by children and run the activity as a family business. In other residential areas, the selling business is dominated by men, who represent 85 percent of the surveyed retailers and wholesalers.

Charcoal-selling provides stable self-employment: three years in full-time sales was given as average, although nearly 8 percent of those surveyed had been in this business full-time for over 20 years.

The selling enterprises have about 90 bags of charcoal in stock, equivalent to a capital investment of KSh 4989. Smaller enterprises may hold as little as one bag in stock at any time. Average daily sales of charcoal were reported to range from 5.4 bags in me hot season to ten bags in the cold/wet season. Retailers also reported purchasing an average of 194 bags a month each from transport/ dealers. Thus average daily retail sales of 6.6 bags can be assumed. After the transporter/dealer enterprises, the wholesaling/retailing enterprises make the highest profit margins. The selling enterprises are growing in number rather than in size, tending to spring up in every new residential area established (see Table 2).

Profits rise from producer to distributor

Estimating profitability in charcoal enterprises largely remains guesswork owing to the lack of bookkeeping. Available survey information indicates that the charcoal industry provides sizeable economic returns to the investor. Profitability thus can be loosely equated to the reported or calculated net income to the proprietor or workers. A most noteworthy characteristic of profitability is its variation between geographical zones and enterprise types and levels. Net profits increase as the product goes from one type of enterprise to me other in the production and distribution network. Rates of profit are disproportionately higher among the transportation and marketing enterprises compared with those of the production and processing enterprises. This is typical of other farm-based products marketed in urban areas.

An attempt is made below to evaluate profitability in various enterprise types and levels. For lack of reliable data, these estimates should be taken as rough indicators of the relative importance of this sector in income generation.

Tree owners

Profitability or income to tree-owners can be expressed in two forms: cash income obtained from the sale of trees, or income-in-kind obtained from exchanging trees for farm labour or another product or service. Cash payments to tree-farmers or tree-owners are more common and steady in the high potential production zone. Incomes-in-kind are more common in the rangelands, where landowners may pay farm labourers with charcoal trees for clearing land for crops or grazing.

Table 3 gives an estimate of the annual income from a 1 ha woodlot in the highland zone. In most cases nearly 38 percent of the gross income estimated for 1 ha at KSh 21555 over the seven-year cycle goes to the charcoal-maker rather than to the tree-farmer. This is because most tree-owners prefer to sell the trees rather than make charcoal themselves.

The black wattle tree is analysed here not because it is the typical species used for Nairobi's charcoal supply but because more verifiable economic data are available for it, and this producer system demonstrates the value of a multipurpose tree grown for charcoal.

The determinants of net income received by owners of trees used in charcoal-making are diverse. First, the mode of disposal of trees will determine not only the owner's net income but also the ultimate cost of trees to the charcoal-maker. Assuming that all the products listed in Table 3 were harvested and marketed by the tree-owner, a gross income of KSh 21555 could be estimated for a seven-year growth cycle, yielding an average of KSh 3000 per hectare a year. This could be taken to be the owner's annual income if he had supplied all the labour, which is not true in most cases. More often the farmer sells trees directly to charcoal-makers, in which case his annual income is much less. In a survey sample of 42 owners of black wattle woodlots, only 6 percent reported incomes above KSh 2150 per hectare a year in the highland zone. Earnings from growing tea or coffee and from agricultural employment are far higher than this.

Another determinant of tree-owners' income is the kind of tree. Multipurpose hardwoods fetch higher prices. For example, a four-year-old black wattle pole fetches KSh 10 while a similar eucalyptus pole brings KSh 4 to the owner.

As in all other types of charcoal enterprises, seasonal variations in charcoal demand and household budgetary requirements also determine incomes for tree-owners. When charcoal demand is high, trees can be sold at a higher price; and when school fees or other compelling household expenses arise, the tree farmer may sell at throw-away prices.

Maintaining woodlots for charcoal production may not appear to be a very profitable venture to the owner. However, gains from such production factors might be expected to be significantly high considering that woodlots occupy only idle land usually unsuitable for other agricultural uses. Furthermore, the farmer makes virtually no capital investment and can still receive an income without providing any labour. Prices of charcoal trees range from KSh 6 in the low potential zone to KSh 18 in the high potential zone for a tree yielding two to three bags of charcoal. Income accruing to owners of trees and the land is a significant incentive for sustained charcoal systems only in the high potential zone.

Generally it can be concluded that growing trees for charcoal production in areas supplying Nairobi is not an economically competitive land-use system for the farmer.

There does not seem to be any production system for charcoaling trees that guarantees producer incomes comparable in size and frequency to those obtained from other land-use systems among the producers supplying Nairobi. Generally it can be concluded that growing trees for charcoal production in areas supplying Nairobi is not an economically competitive land-use system for the farmer. This may partly explain the rapid disappearance of raw materials for charcoal around the city.


Production of charcoal in all the areas supplying Nairobi is a well-established income-generating activity, bringing in more income (as has been seen) to the charcoal-maker than the trees bring to the owner. In some parts of the Embu District north of Nairobi, for instance, making charcoal just twice a year from 1 ha earns more than production from 1 ha of cotton, with no capital or cash outlay required and far less labour.

In two or three days, one person alone can cut down enough wood to make ten to 15 bags of charcoal. After about ten days of kiln building and carbonization, charcoal worth about KSh 390 will be obtained. A charcoal-maker can therefore earn about KSh 39 a day during the charcoaling cycle. - This is nearly two and a half times the official minimum wage for unskilled farm workers.

An unskilled worker in a charcoal-making enterprise earns an average of KSh 20-25 a day, which is KSh 510 higher than the daily earnings of a farm worker.

Major determinants of profitability in charcoal-making operations include technology in use, efficiency of operation, distance from major markets, local cost of inputs and the species of trees used. Larger kilns (over 100 bags per cycle) operated by the large-scale charcoal-makers seem to be more productive and profitable than small ones (under ten bags per kiln cycle).

Productivity of capital invested in charcoal-making This is considerably high and returns are usually guaranteed and quick. For example, the producers sampled in the highland production zone invest an average of KSh 16 to buy a tree yielding at least 1.5 bags of charcoal using their own labour or labour costing KSh 5 per bag, to give a total material and labour cost of KSh 21. The ex burner price of KSh 30-40 per bag in this area fetches KSh 45-60 per tree giving at least KSh 24 in gross profit per tree in this area. A net profit of KSh 7 per bag was the minimum reported by one producer in the Chyulu Hills of Machakos District. Net profits ranged from KSh 7-12 per bag in areas supplying Nairobi.

In spite of these high profit margins, incomes from charcoal-making do not contribute a major part of the total income for all charcoal-makers since most of them are small and seasonal producers earning extra incomes for emergency household expenditures.

Charcoal producers are faced with a major problem in the rapidly diminishing availability of raw materials: trees are fast disappearing from the traditional charcoal-making areas. Unfortunately, there are no significant unexploited reserves of trees in areas beyond today's production zone. This explains the frequent bans and restrictions placed on charcoal-making at various periods. Coupled with government control on ex burner prices, these restrictions were cited by some producers as problems confronting their enterprises.

Another constraint to the development and growth of the industry is perhaps the highly negative social and political attitudes toward charcoal-making activities. The charcoal-maker, more than the trader and consumer, is widely regarded as one of the major contributors to uncontrolled deforestation in Kenya. In several areas, it has led to the near-total abandonment of the charcoaling industry with virtually no serious efforts to improve production conditions.


Among the related enterprises supplying Nairobi, transportation ranks high in the employment of modern technology (the diesel truck), semi-formality, and concentrations of incomes and profit in the hands of a few operators. In interviews with charcoal transporters it was found that supplying Nairobi is a well-managed trucking business making decent profits for the proprietor and the driver, and incomes for two or three workers per truck.

For those truck owners involved in transportation only, the charges range from KSh 8-10 per bag over an average distance of 125 km from Nairobi. Trucks with a capacity for 250 bags that make eight trips a month reportedly net a monthly income of KSh 5800-7600 for the proprietor. The driver makes KSh 2500 a month while his two assistants earn KSh 900 each.

Transporter/dealers make much more than do mere transporters. The ex burner price of charcoal per bag averages KSh 28. After incurring a transport cost of KSh 10 per bag the transporter/dealer can earn KSh 29700 a month if he brings into Nairobi 2000 bags of charcoal in a truck holding 250 bags.

Although the earnings made by charcoal truck-owners compare unfavourably to those made in other trucking businesses, it should be borne in mind that the trucks used are normally old and dilapidated, unfit for formal sector business. Only 11 percent of truckers interviewed indicated that they had procured their vehicles specifically for charcoal transportation. An attractive aspect of income from combined transport and trade is that income is virtually guaranteed. Any charcoal brought into Nairobi can always be sold out in less than two days. Therefore, contracts or jobs for transporters are always available and most of them squeeze in two deliveries per week. The proprietor can get in and out of the business at will.

Normally an initial investment of KSh 9500 per truckload will net the investor KSh 1750 in a period of three days.

Wholesalers and retailers

The wholesalers and retailers in Nairobi buy their charcoal from the transporter/dealers at an average of KSh 45 per bag. The wholesalers sell it at KSh 55 making a gross profit of KSh 10 per bag. An average wholesaler handles a volume of 600 or 700 bags per month yielding a gross monthly income of KSh 6000-7000.

Retailers procure their charcoal either at the transporter/dealer price of KSh 45 or at the wholesaler's price of KSh 55. They break the bag into smaller portions sold in tin containers, the most common size being a four-litre can holding approximately 2 kg charcoal and sold for KSh 3-4. Retailers can measure an average of 20 of these cans per bag, grossing well over KSh 60 per bag sold. In some residential areas such as Parklands, where charcoal is a little more expensive, two retailers reported total sales of KSh 125 from one bag of charcoal. A net profit of KSh 15 per bag is, however, more common among retailers. An average retailer disposes of three to five bags a day and therefore a daily income of KSh 45-75 can be expected. This compares favourably with and is in many cases better than incomes earned by workers with qualifications and skills similar to those of the charcoal retailers - many of whom are women assisted by their older children.

Entry into either of the two levels of charcoal trade in Nairobi is fairly easy. Retail outlets are mushrooming in every residential estate. Retailers surveyed indicated that they had put in an average of KSh 538 as initial investment. After two years of successful business this investment had created a small enterprise generating for the retailer a gross monthly income of KSh 2390.

Retailers experience a unique problem related to fluctuation of charcoal prices and enforcement of official price control. Transporters and dealers adjust to cost increases by passing them on to the retailers. But the latter are under constant public and official scrutiny and cannot so easily pass on their cost to consumers. Therefore the traders have to undergo frequent economic losses to remain in business. In several areas, the government has successfully enforced the sale of charcoal to the consumer by weight instead of by volume. Since the regulation weight of a whole bag is not always obtained, and the charcoal-makers and transporters do not sell by weight, the retailer has a problem to ensure that selling by weight will recover the money invested.

Improving the trade

During these limited surveys several possibilities for improving trading were examined.

Increasing raw material supply This could partly be achieved by introducing extension and technical assistance programmes to bring about scientific and economic management of existing indigenous forests, woodlots and range-land trees now being used for charcoal production. Such programmes would aim at creating a more stable supply of trees through economic incentives to the tree-farmer and a revision of tree prices. To support them, the district and regional development plans would need to incorporate land-use strategies for the development of wood energy resources in areas zoned for this purpose.

It is now widely accepted that to improve the future viability of the charcoal industry in Kenya, existing production must be intensified and new sources for charcoaling must be created, especially near high population zones.

An attractive aspect of income from combined transport and trade is that income is virtually guaranteed. Any charcoal brought into Nairobi can always be sold out in less than two days.

Efficiency in charcoaling enterprises Because of the largely itinerant and seasonal nature of these enterprises, they have proved elusive to all efforts to introduce improvements. However, a large number of full-time, seasonal and frequent charcoal-makers are identifiable in all zones. These could be the primary target of efforts to introduce efficient high-yield charcoaling technologies. Immediate areas of impact would include improving tree-processing tools by introducing manual or power saws to replace the axe, training in more efficient methods of operating the earth kiln and - where applicable - the use of brick kilns, tools and better techniques for grading charcoal by removing foreign matter and charcoal dust.

Cheaper transportation and distribution The most common transport problem occurs during the rainy season when the roads to charcoal kilns are impassable. At this time the fuel price in Nairobi may unofficially jump 30-40 percent above normal. Another problem is the high cost of imported fuel and vehicle maintenance in charcoal transport. Discussions with transporters showed that these problems could be solved by introducing a modal split in transportation.

This would require the establishment of central depots on the major all-weather roads in charcoal-producing areas. The smaller-capacity trucks now used for long-haul to Nairobi would be restricted to supplying these depots, especially during the dry season, when charcoal-making is at a peak. From the depots, the charcoal would be transported to Nairobi on trailer trucks with greater capacity than those now used. Thus on long hauls, trailers would transport 600-700 bags of charcoal on one trip as opposed to the 200-300 now transported.

The short-haul - depot - long-haul mode could cut the cost of transport reportedly by at least 30 percent. One of the transporters interviewed already had an investment plan to move charcoal this way. Indeed, as supply distances from Nairobi increase, it may become either extremely expensive or wholly uneconomical to transport charcoal in loads of fewer than 400 bags per truck.

More stability for retailers In many small-scale informal sector enterprises, charcoal retailing is dogged by problems caused by having to operate in the open on sites of insecure tenure. These are real constraints to capital expansion, enterprise growth and profitability. During the rainy season the charcoal is sold wet, which considerably lowers utilization efficiency and user convenience.

Provision of more secure land tenure through temporary occupation licences for charcoal-sellers might lead to an improvement of the material conditions in which charcoal is retailed. While improving the working environment of the sellers, this might introduce an overhead cost not currently experienced.

No significant efforts have been made by government or other development agencies to improve the performance of charcoal enterprises in Kenya. No attempts have been made to organize producers and sellers into marketing or workers' cooperatives, as has been done with many other rural products sold to the towns. Technology development has been undertaken in laboratories, but its benefits have yet to be extended to the industry. Linked sectors supplying inputs for production, for transport and for charcoal use seem to regard the charcoal enterprises as not being adaptable to change, or not worthy of efforts to establish and improve intersectoral coordination, and thus perhaps incapable of responding to such efforts.

End-use utilization efficiency is, however, one subject that has recently received tremendous official and donor attention. Research, development and dissemination work in improved charcoal stoves has resulted in the introduction of over 100000 of the new model. Over 75 percent of the traditional inefficient stoves are expected to be replaced by 1988. The charcoal user was made aware that improvement in burning efficiency meant sizeable benefits in cash savings. An average reduction of 25 percent in cooking costs is obtained by using the improved charcoal stove now being marketed in Kenya. This is equivalent to a 30 percent saving in charcoal required to cook a normal meal. Finally, various agencies have sought to improve the performance of the traditional but inefficient three-stone fire.

However, improved wood-stoves for poorer households have encountered dissemination problems in Kenya as elsewhere in Africa. A variety of efficient models has been developed over the past five years, but only in 1985 was there some promise of a self-sustaining diffusion process among the population.

The development and diffusion of the technology of wood energy conservation is, however, only part of the approach to the energy crisis. Increased production of raw materials from existing woodlots and newly created sources of supply is of paramount importance. The development of efficient production and conservation technologies requires trained personnel, now very scarce. Unfortunately, there are no research and training institutions in Kenya equipped to teach basic skills in wood energy development technologies.

For these and various other reasons, the improvement and growth of the wood energy sector probably will proceed at a pace slower than that of the rapidly increasing demand for the product.

Future prospects

It is now widely accepted that to improve the future viability of the charcoal industry in Kenya, existing production must be intensified and new sources for charcoaling must be created, especially near high population zones. To date, both of these problems have proved difficult to solve although what can be done has become clearer.

First, sustained charcoal production, like crop production, is a land-use activity that must be included in all district or regional land-use development plans. Once official, land-use plans can, under the Planning Act, designate land to be developed for wood energy production. Government and private landowners would be approached to explore new mechanisms for releasing land for charcoal plantations. Leaseholds, freehold and sharecropping are possible tenurial arrangements.

Second, once land has become available, investment plans and management strategies can be formulated for specific areas and production systems. Availability of long-term capital loans with up to 20-year periods of grace can greatly accelerate investment in the charcoal industry.

Third, in order to help mobilize the required capital, financial institutions, private sector enterprises and charcoal producers can work out a financing arrangement that will minimize individual risks while maximizing returns. Energy commodity futures trading is beginning to develop informally in rural areas, signalling the possibility of the later private sector participation.

Fourth, business and alternative investment opportunities have been recognized in wood energy development by a few companies newly formed to provide technical services or invest in wood energy production and marketing. More of these enterprises need to be encouraged and strengthened to support the existing efforts of government and volunteer organizations in combating the wood energy crisis.


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