As cities in East Africa keep growing, so too will demand for charcoal – the region’s preferred urban fuel – placing increasing pressure on rural landscapes where it is produced. How can charcoal production and supply be made sustainable? What are the implications of sustainable charcoal policies and practices for achieving a low-carbon pathway and protecting the environment?

This paper presents case study research focusing on Kitui County, one of the main charcoal production areas in Kenya. Risk and uncertainty of sustainable charcoal policies in Kitui were assessed using complementary methods of stakeholder workshops, informant interviews and agent-based modelling. This interdisciplinary approach combined policy research and simulation modelling, where local perspectives and data were included directly in the modelling.

These methods facilitated critique of behaviour concerning agency and corruption. Stakeholders valued the ability to access detailed information on micro-interactions and consider policy performance regarding both financial flows and biomass extraction.