WINDHOEK - Charcoal production is an important activity for managing bush encroachment in Namibia. With an estimated 160 000 tonnes of export volume in 2016, Namibia is currently ranked as the fifth largest exporter of wood charcoal in the world, which also makes it the largest exporter of charcoal in the Southern African region. This steady increase in demand and supply for Namibia’s charcoal in various markets has led to the charcoal industry being identified for strategic development through the National Development Plan (NDP5) and especially as one of the ten industries in the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and SME Development (MITSMED)’s Growth at Home strategy to accelerate the country’s economic advancement.
Considering different and connected factors such as current market demand and the industry’s ability to respond to such demand, it is estimated that Namibian charcoal exports could increase to 200 000 tonnes by 2020.
This is good news for sustainable rangeland management in Namibia, as the country’s farmland is burdened by a massive encroachment of bush species which, to name a few, has reduced agricultural productivity due to the lands reduced carrying capacity, resulted in water constraints from high extraction of groundwater by encroaching bush, reduced biodiversity of species and created challenges for large predator conservation efforts. Charcoal production in Namibia is considered to be more dynamic than in other contexts as it presents strategies to combat bush encroachment, supplement farming income and contribute to employment creation. Charcoal production has existed as an industry in Namibia for approximately 30 years and operates mainly on farms in the central and northern regions. There are many stakeholders and actors in the industry including harvesters, processors, agents and traders. The establishment of the non-profit voluntary Namibia Charcoal Association (NCA) brought about a shift in the industry to achieve improved coordination and streamlining of good business standards in the sector.
The NCA has 697 registered members and held its 2018 Annual Conference, AGM and Expo at Otjiwa Lodge close to Otjiwarongo on August 10, 2018. “The event was attended by almost 400 participants and 28 exhibitors. Last year we had 260 participants and 14 exhibitors, making this the highest number of stakeholders to date since the NCA has been organising the sector-wide event,” said Roelien Coffee, the NCA Office Administrator. The event had lively and diverse exhibitors showcasing technologies, services and innovative practices.
The 2018 AGM concluded on a minimum wage, basic standard of living conditions for charcoal workers when required to reside on any premises of the charcoal producer as well as the provision of free protective equipment and clothing. Furthermore, the AGM heard current technology for kilns to burn wood into charcoal is being improved to produce a retort kiln. The retort kiln technology currently being tested aims to provide the industry with an affordable option for producing good quality, higher yields and reduced smoke emissions.
The NCA is also supporting the development of Namibia’s own Charcoal Standards which are expected to be finalised by the end of 2018. The standards are aligned with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the establishment of national standards serves to tailor the FSC standards to Namibia’s circumstances. Meeting FSC standards is a requirement for exporting to European markets. This is important for Namibia because of the nine export markets for its charcoal, these are largely based in Europe (including the UK, Germany, France, Portugal and Greece).
One of the main aims of the NCA is to promote the production of FSC-certified charcoal among its members and the localisation of these standards is key to meet the requirements for a more socially, economically and ecologically sound product. In order to do so, the Association facilitates a series of group schemes to conduct the audits for validating standards are met through collective cooperation among a larger portion of land owners and processors in a given vicinity. “This approach to create economies of scale among the harvesters and processors supports improved coordination and reduced costs for individuals seeking to meet the rigorous certification requirements,” commented Michal Brink, CEO of CMO Consulting, a South African-based consulting company supporting the NCA to implement FSC group schemes among other services.
The National Charcoal Conference and Expo was supported by three main sponsors, namely; the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), NAMCHAR and Umlilo Charcoal Products.