From rainforest to charcoal
Huge areas of tropical rainforest are being destroyed to make charcoal for barbecues. The global deforestation is leading to growing problems. Nigeria and the DRC Congo – two of Europe’s main charcoal suppliers – are also affected.
Every year, Europeans use approximately 800,000 tons of charcoal for barbecuing. Seventy percent of the charcoal comes from outside the EU, and the bags often contain remnants of tropical woods. Officially, tropical woods are subject to strict import conditions. But when it comes to wood charcoal, these do not apply.
Worldwide, 2.7 billion people cook and heat with wood or charcoal. The related emission of greenhouse gases is enormous. 55 percent of global wood is used as fuel per year, and much of it is cut illegally in Africa’s bush and tropical forests. Nigeria produces most of its charcoal for export. Especially during dry periods, local Nigerian farmers use coal production as a lifeline to make money and feed their families. At the same time, charcoal mills travel the countryside in family groups, charring all the trees they can cut down. The consequences are hair-raising. Nigeria lost 36 percent of its forests between 1990 and 2005. At present, twelve percent of the country is still covered with forest – but charcoal production continues to rise, eating up 350,000 hectares of fertile land here every year. According to the UN, charcoal production is one of the main causes of deforestation in Africa, which in turn is closely linked to massive deterioration in soil quality and a growing risk of crop failure. But African legislation has been slow to respond to the problem. The coal business is highly lucrative business, and rakes in some 7.4 billion US Dollars a year. According to recent estimates, the current illegal trade in charcoal is worth almost three times as much as the trade in illegal drugs.