This work provides empirical evidence of social and environmental impacts of the production phase of charcoal in Liberia, West Africa. It helps address a gap in information for stakeholders and establishes a baseline for more focused research and interventions efforts for the country's sector.
Charcoal is often perceived as a maligned part of the energy ladder, mainly due to the environmental and health effects of its end use. This fuel is generally a small part of energy policies or left out altogether. Main efforts to curtail its impacts are aimed at reducing its use. The hope is that households will move away from this fuel all together. But evidence shows that cultural preference, socio-economic factors, and flaws in the concept of the energy ladder will ensure charcoal continues to be a significant part of the energy portfolio in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The production phase of the fuel has received little attention particularly when considering the large environmental and social impacts faced by producers. In Liberia, where over 90% of the urban population depends on this fuel, very little is known about the situation faced by producers and the impacts resulting from it. The research team surveyed producers in key charcoal-production areas of Liberia and interviewed stakeholders from governmental and non-profit agencies.
Results show that a majority of survey respondents do not replant when harvesting for production and use traditional earth mound kilns. Child labor and physical injury were common among respondents. Gender disparities and a lack of institutional support or formalization of the industry were identified. Policies aimed at the production phase of charcoal are generally absent in the country.
Further research is needed to fully understand the situation in Liberia and more engagement with producers will be key. However, these initial findings point to the need for focused attention on the production phase of the fuel and attempt to fill the gap of available data from the field.