The charcoal industry in Namibia is one of the fastest-growing industries in these challenging times, where most countries are heavily burdened under the Covid-19 pandemic, and Namibia is no exception.
Last year, the local charcoal industry recorded growth of 25%. In 2019, the sector employed close to 10 000 workers, who produced about 200 000 tons of charcoal – up from 120 000 tons in 2018.
According to Michael Dege, general manager of the Namibia Charcoal Association (NCA), approximately 210 000 tonnes of charcoal were exported in 2020.
Charcoal production remains an important activity for managing bush encroachment in Namibia and the sale thereof makes a significant contribution to businesses and ultimately the domestic economy.
In an interview with the New Era, Dege stated that NCA has embarked on an on-farm training programme since last year June.
“We have trained approximately 560 workers to date and are continuing with this initiative so that we can support the charcoal industry in upskilling charcoal workers and help producers to get better production and quality,” he said.
This training programme is also aimed at motivating charcoal workers to work within the guidelines of the industry so that fewer challenges arise for the producers.
He added that challenges impacting the industry include excessive harbour fees as well as the fact that Namibians often find themselves competing against their products in the international market. Charcoal is exported via trucks to South Africa and further exported internationally.
“As the South African harbours have more competitive pricing, we cannot compete internationally, as they often sell at a lower price than Namibians,” explained Dege.
He added that too much lump charcoal (unpacked) is leaving Namibia to South Africa, urging more to be done in collaboration with SA processors to package charcoal locally and only then to export it to SA.
“This would mean more revenue for Namibia. We need to emphasise that the SA market is valuable and we should not alienate it – therefore our call for collaboration. We already have a few South Africans who work very closely with the industry in Namibia,” said Dege.
Furthermore, value added tax (VAT) has a direct influence on charcoal production.
Dege advised that no VAT should be charged on the raw products when they leave the farm. Once the charcoal is packaged, then VAT should be added, as value has only then been added to the charcoal.
He further said too much focus is on the workers from a labour perspective, but the rights of producers are mostly neglected in labour cases.
“Illegal poaching is prevalent on farms. Some workers take all the equipment and leave the producer with a high debt behind. No protection is given to the producer but only to the workers. There should be an equal distribution of protection for both parties. This is often the case, as labour offices do not always understand the process of charcoal production and do not consider the producer’s situation,” he said.
Meanwhile, industrialisation minister Lucia Iipumbu at a ministerial consultative meeting last week in Gobabis stated that with the support of the development partner, GIZ (ProBATS), the ministry is currently facilitating a training programme in sustainable charcoal production, where about N$1 million has been budgeted to train 100 micro, small and medium enterprises.
“The first round of training commenced on the 8th March 2021 in the Otjozondjupa region. I know this region has huge potential in charcoal production and this training programme will be extended to the Omaheke region in due course,” Iipumbu outlined.