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The cost of charcoal

The charcoal trade is putting pressure on Mozambique’s forests.

Good afternoon. Last week, authorities apprehended charcoal smugglers heading towards the Zimbabwe border in Tete province. Such illicit activity is hardly uncommon across the huge, porous border between Mozambique and its neighbours, but the crackdown on charcoal smuggling highlights several noteworthy issues.

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Zimbabwean and Malawian authorities impose much stricter regulations on the production and use of charcoal for domestic consumption, but tend to turn a blind eye when the charcoal comes across the border from Mozambique.

Charcoal production puts enormous pressure on natural resources and the Mozambican forest. The Rural Environmental Observatory (OMR), a local NGO which deals with rural issues, found that 70-80% of urban families use charcoal as their main energy source. Alternative energy sources, such as cooking gas, are still too expensive to compete with charcoal, and there is no policy to subsidise the use of gas. Large agricultural areas and forests have been entirely destroyed in southern Mozambique by the recklessness of charcoal producers.

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