Charcoal shortage hits Monrovia

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Mrs. Sieh Thomas, charcoal seller in Monrovia. © Yurfee Shaikalee

Yurfee B. Shaikalee

 

Liberia has two seasons which characterize the cost commodities either by transportation or shortage of forest products. The two seasons are: rainy and dry, with the dry lasting from mid-October to mid-April. During the dry season many goods and services are sold at a lower price than during the rainy season, while during the rainy season many roads are inaccessible to move goods from one location to another thus making prices of goods sky rocket.

 

Increase in deforestation and increase in costs of charcoal

This year the price shift in charcoal has had a direct link to the increase in the use of charcoal and the deforestation resulting from the clearing of the last remaining secondary forest and lowland areas close to Monrovia city. There has been a record high in the price increase of charcoal on the local market from $3.00 in April to $6.00 in May. Liberia’s main energy source is charcoal and fire wood for use in cooking, heating homes, heating water and lighting for some forest-dependent residents.

Since the end of the civil conflict in Liberia, 95 per cent of citizens now depend on fire wood for energy. The rate of deforestation instantly increased to within 50 to 75 miles from Monrovia extending into Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, Gbapolu, Margibi and Grand Bassa Counties. At first the suppliers of charcoal to the city of Monrovia were producing charcoal from old rubber trees, right within Monrovia and its environs. However, since 2005 many of the rubber farmers have sold out all their trees depleting all the trees nearby.

Today, the charcoal producers have cleared all the lowlands and secondary forest and are now in search for trees in high forest cover areas which is going to lead to a faster rate of depletion of the Liberian forest leading to forest degradation and deforestation. Because of the shortage of charcoal on the local market there has been a 100 per cent increase in the charcoal business since the beginning of the rainy season. Many citizens that cannot afford it are in desperate need of anything to burn for fuel.

Two of those affected are charcoal producer Mr. Robert S. Kon and seller Mrs. Sieh Thomas in Rally Town Market located in Monrovia.

 

Impact on ordinary people

According to Mr. Kon there are many factors for the increase of charcoal on the local market. “We as producers do not have trees to fell for burning any more around Monrovia. We have to travel more than 60 miles in search for trees and furthermore we have to pay for a lease from a community or personal forest owner, making charcoal production very expensive for us.” Mr. Kon also spoke of the high increase in the price of gasoline which cost $5.00 per gallon and the labor fees involved is the cost of increase in charcoal this year.

According to Mr. Kon the retailers also have to travel long distances to purchase from the producers making the market hard for both producers and consumers. “We are not responsible for the high increase [in prices] but the situation relates to deforestation and the inability of the government to decrease the price of petroleum on the local market.” Mr. Kon also lamented the lack of jobs which is forcing many young men and women into the industry making landlords increase their land rental fees.

Also affected by the high increase in charcoal is Mrs. Sieh Thomas, a retailer who spoke about the ordeal faced by charcoal retailers. “The distance we have to travel now a day is longer than before when we were travelling between five to ten miles to purchase charcoal but today we are travelling more than seventy five miles to purchase coal.” Mrs. Thomas stated. “We spend money for lodging, feeding, Forestry Development Authority (FDA) label fees which cost $7.00 per month, increase of price of a hundred pounds sack bag by the charcoal producers to $2.50 and the increase of transportation from the purchase site by truck drivers.”

The government of Liberia has not done anything about the shortage of charcoal but this has led to many families starving because of the extra cost charcoal.