Economics and sustainability of commercial production of wood fuel in Miombo woodlands of eastern Tanzania

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University of the Witwatersrand


Miombo woodlands, which comprise the largest proporti on of the savanna regions of southern Africa, are central to the livelihood of both rural and urban households . Wood fuel is the main source of energy for the majority of the population, with firewood used in rural areas and charcoal in urban centres. Indigenous commercial production of charcoal, using earth mound k ilns, utilises about 42 tree species, a higher number than for any other uses. Over 56% of the trees harvested within communal lands (ranging between 2.4 and 68.6 cm dbh) were felled for charcoal. The apparent profit in charcoal production is attributable to very low capital outlays, "free" own labour, "free raw materials" , lack of concern about associated external costs, high demand for charcoal and lack of alternative income-generating activities. Cutting of tr ees for charcoal implies an opportunity cost as the trees may have been used fo r other purposes such as timber, construction, medicine, firewood and food. Miombo woodlands also perform vital ecosystem serv ices such as carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling and watershed protection. The estimated local wood consumption for charcoal of 6.01 m 3 capita -1 year -1 is very high compared to subsistenc e firewood consumption of only 1.3 m 3 capita -1 year -1 . The area cleared for charcoal production locally was about 1 671 ha year -1 which is about 10% of the accessible area within local communal lands. This shows that al though commercialisation of wood resources provides tangible monetary benefits to rural communities, it also contributes to environmental degradation that will ultimately threaten their long-term survival.



Commercial production, Wood fuel, Miombo woodlands, Eastern Tanzania