For Patrick Kituku and the people he represents, a single word means a lot. They have often been referred to as “charcoal burners”. Now, people are starting to use the term “charcoal producers”.
“That is a big step,” says Kituku, who chairs the Mutha Charcoal Producers Association in Kitui County, in southeast Kenya. After years of being marginalized, members are coming closer to their goal of having charcoal seen “as a product just like maize, beans, fruits… that actually support people’s livelihoods”.
Charcoal is a big part of Kenyans’ energy supply. According to the Kenya Forestry Service (KFS), it provides 82 percent of household energy in urban areas, and 34 percent in rural areas. Charcoal production provides jobs and income to more than 700,000 people, supporting over 2 million dependents.
Yet until recently, charcoal production in Kenya was unregulated and illegal. With no viable alternatives for households, however, charcoal use has continued to increase.
So Kenya is trying a new approach: working with organized and registered charcoal producers to modernize their trade.
Investing in technology can make a huge difference. Traditional earth kilns are not only hard to use and smoky, but produce only about 1 kg of charcoal per 10 kg of wood. Modern kilns can increase the yield to about 3 kg.
In other words, with modern technology, Kenyans can keep using charcoal while making a much smaller impact on forests.