Irénée Modeste Bidima,
With support from the Rainforest Journalism Fund Pulitzer Center.
According to Ndjigba Jean David, the Regional Delegate of the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (Minfof) for the Far North, the use of charcoal is unavoidable in households in this geographical area: « Several studies have shown that 90 to 95% of the population use wood or charcoal as a source of energy in households.Given the low standard of living, other sources of energy are expensive and scarce, » he says.
But in order to safeguard the forest resources of this environmentally sensitive region, charcoal-making activities have been banned by the administration since 2001. For example, it takes about 7 truckloads of fresh wood to produce 1 truckload of charcoal, according to a local source. Only the cutting of dead wood is authorised and regulated, but unfortunately it is not enough to supply households. « The demand for fuelwood is very high, which leads to multiple attacks on forest resources for charcoal production. All the 6 departments of the Far North region are touched by this phenomenon, but the most seriously affected are Logone-et-Chari, Mayo-Sava, and Mayo-Kani. This is very often done with the aim of supplying the urban centre of Maroua » said Ndjigba Jean David.
According to Adama Djouldé, a resident of the Doualaré neighbourhood in the south of Maroua, ‘There is a lot of illegal charcoal in Maroua at present. But it is rarely sold through public channels. The different actors know each other well. The wholesalers make deliveries to households late at night or early in the morning when the state control services are not active. The coal comes from all sides, wherever there are still some forests to be found, » he says.
Estimated needs of 65,000 tonnes of charcoal per year
In Kaélé and Moulvoudaye, illegal charcoal is not only used for cooking, it is also used to burn and harden mud bricks for house construction.
The most sought-after species for illegal charcoal is the Balanites aegyptiaca, also known as the wild date palm, which has many useful medicinal properties. Unfortunately, this treasure is now disappearing, according to naturopaths. Its charcoal is very hard and takes a long time to be used up.
The current national demand for fuelwood is 6,560,000 tonnes per year, of which 356,000 tonnes are charcoal. This demand for charcoal would be equivalent to 2.5 million cubic meters of timber and 12,500 hectares of natural forest destroyed per year. The demand for charcoal in the Far North region alone is currently estimated at around 65,000 tonnes per year according to a Minfof official, i.e. 1/6 of the national demand.
There are several reasons for this staggering increase in the use of illegal charcoal. According to Aboubakari, the person in charge of the Maroua 1 urban fuelwood market: « Today, everyone knows and consumes charcoal, which has gradually become a household staple. Previously, only firewood was known, not coal. Economically, there are also advantages, because with a 10,000 CFA francs bag of charcoal, a household can use it for a month, whereas with wood in the same period, it will spend three times the price of the bag of charcoal,’ he explains.
Demographic pressure worsens the situation
For the Regional Delegate of Minfof, this phenomenon has become more widespread in recent years because of the insecurity that has led to the displacement of populations, with the arrival of many refugees and internally displaced persons. « As soon as these people settle down somewhere new, they first attack the forest resources either to build a shelter or to make a field. While waiting for the field to produce, the first subsistence activity they very often engage in is cutting wood to produce charcoal as this does not require much capital. Even the Waza National Park is not spared » he says.
Increasing demographic pressure in ordinary villages is also a factor: « Neighbourhood or village chiefs are obliged to grant space to the population for the extension of fields, and the latter take advantage of this to cut down forests in order to produce illegal charcoal, » explains Adama Djouldé.
The Minfof services use several means of fighting to adapt or at least mitigate the phenomenon, including awareness and repression. They are assisted by Law No. 94/01 of 20 January 1994 on the regime of forests, wildlife and fisheries and its enforcement texts, in articles 154, 155 and 156 to punish fraudsters in case of seizure of coal.
Initiatives to stem the tide
But this struggle does not yet seem to be successful for many reasons. According to Segnou Dessap, Minfof’s forestry officer in the Diamaré department: « The population, which needs this resource so much to survive, finds itself in a situation where they are asked not to consume any more, but there is no other alternative that they are offered immediately.And it’s difficult to control all these traffickers at once because the region is full of their trails, and the borders are porous, » he explains.
The lack of involvement or collaboration of other law enforcement authorities such as the police, gendarmerie and army is also lamented. « The coal that sometimes comes out of Kousséri, comes in collusion with the military. When they return from security missions in the field, they bring back coal either to sell it in Maroua to their neighbours or to use in their households. The gendarmes and policemen should come to support Minfof, unfortunately once they are given a hand, it is over. Even among Minfof agents, there are black sheep, » said a source who requested to remain confidential.
As for Aboubakari, he strongly demands the involvement of the Ministry of Territorial Administration: « If this ministerial department decides to put pressure on the traditional rulers to put an end to this activity in their respective villages, this situation will stop. This matter should no longer be the exclusive problem of Minfof » he suggests.
Saving what is left of the forests of the Far North
Minfof is working upstream to renew forest resources in the region by financing reforestation activities in the councils and traditional chiefdoms, through NGOs, associations and individuals. It provides resources in the form of BIPs granted to councils for reforestation of areas ranging from 20 to 100,000 hectares. At the local level, agroforestry is promoted. The councils are supported in the creation of communal forests, and the communities in the creation of community forests so that the forests are managed in a participatory, sustained and sustainable manner.
« Technical and financial partners of the State, such as Giz, are working to set up a system to supply the Far North region with legal charcoal from sawmill waste from the East region » adds Ndjigba Jean David.
Regarding the latter support component, two pilot initiatives were carried out in partnership with the Network of charcoal makers from forest concessions in the East (Rechacofest) in 2018 and 2019, but were unfortunately plagued by the high transport costs and parafiscal charges. « It takes at least 2 million CFA francs to hire a truck from the Eastern region to Maroua. There is also the parafiscal charge of around 350,000 francs per truck, which is enormous » says Aboubakari, whose group has bought hundreds of bags of legal charcoal, which are stuck in Mindourou in the eastern region due to a lack of funds to transport them to Maroua. According to him, the state should subsidise the transportation of legal coal from the Eastern region for at least a year for this initiative to bear fruit. Adama Djouldé backed up this view “If the state wants to save what is left of the forests in the far north, it must really take the lead role. By subsidising certain charges so that legal coal from the region is sold at a lower price than illegal coal » he suggests.