The changes will include tackling labour issues and modernising kilns with the goal of reducing smoke emission and improving wood-to-charcoal conversion.Pieter Potgieter, the newly appointed manager of the Namibia Charcoal Producers’ Association (NCA), said the association is undergoing a “total transformation”, which has already been kick-started with the support of the German Development Cooperation agency (GIZ) earlier this year.
One of the first steps for the organisation was to change its name from the Namibia Charcoal Producers Association to the Namibia Charcoal Association (NCA), to ensure inclusivity for all sector stakeholders, including producers and processors.
The move to become a fully functioning and independent sector representative body was in part motivated by the growth of the sector, and due to the size and dynamics, stakeholders aim to strengthen the NCA body to facilitate development going forward.According to research the industry represents one of the fastest growing sectors in the country.
The industry, which started with three producers in the 1990s, has mushroomed to 350 registered producers, but many estimate that there are close to 500 producers countrywide, with an estimated 50% producers from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.
Currently, Namibia is the fifth largest exporter of charcoal in the world, and according to reports the industry exports about N$200 million per year.
The sector employs between 5 000 and 6 000 workers, and experts forecast a four-fold growth that could lead to the creation of between 15 000 and 20 000 jobs.
Moreover, the industry plays a critical role in de-bushing, and it is forecast that with the growth of the industry up to 200 000 hectares could be de-bushed annually.
According to a GIZ spokesperson, the charcoal industry “currently plays the most important role in using and processing wood from de-bushing in Namibia,” making it a critical component of Namibia’s overall de-bushing strategy.
GIZ technical advisor Johannes Laufs noted that “through sustainable charcoal production rangeland productivity can be increased, groundwater recharge capacities be improved and biodiversity increased.”
According to estimates, 26 to 30 million hectares of Namibian farmland are affected by bush encroachment, and some estimate that several billion Namibian dollars are lost in meat production due to this.
Laufs explained that GIZ support for the charcoal industry is linked to a four-year project of bush control between the governments of Namibia and Germany.
He said GIZ had pledged N$1 691 000 in financial and technical support, which will be focused on re-shaping the organisation structures of the NCA, implementing pilot projects in order to improve production technologies and methodologies, developing a marketing strategy and establishing a national charcoal production standard.
Moreover, the support will assist the association in developing information material as well as training manuals.
Laufs noted that “the main activity areas also reflect the main challenges in the sector. Through the finance agreement these challenges shall be addressed and overcome.”
One of the key objectives this year is to improve current steel drum kiln technology in order to reduce smoke emission, reduce health risks as well as improving charcoal conversion rates.
An international expert has been appointed to oversee the pilot project which will be implemented between June and August.
While the current kilns, made from simple steel drums, have the advantage of low investment and high mobility, several issues remain.
According to Laufs, they include a low conversion factor (bush to charcoal), health and fire hazards, extensive smoke emissions, as well as the difficulty to apply production standards and regulations, due to the highly mobile and decentralised nature of charcoal production.”
He explained that the new technologies should be in line with fully sustainable and compliant charcoal production, and should lead to significantly reduced or zero smoke emissions.
“It further shall encompass a safe work environment for labourers,” he noted.
Potgieter told Namibian Sun that the industry’s employment potential is immense, but the industry needs to resolve a number of labour issues, including the question of whether processors should be employed on contract or permanently.
He side both sides have “valid support” and it will be difficult to find a win-win situation, but ultimately the association is working towards a permanent employment setup.
The industry also aims to expand and diversify target markets. Currently, the major markets for Namibian charcoal are South Africa, the United Kingdom, Angola, Greece and Germany.
According to Laufs, there are promising indications that the Middle East as well as the Far East could become import partners.
Moreover, the NCA is working closely with government, specifically the Directorate of Forestry within the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry.
The parties are focused on streamlining the relationship in order to “mutually assist each other in ensuring compliance with the law and regulations, as well as monitoring of the sectors growth and impact on bush control”.
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