Congo-Brazzaville: Deforestation increasing as rural communities abandon farming

November 07, 2016
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For several years, rural communities in the Pool region, on the outskirts of Brazzaville, have been abandoning farming for the more lucrative activity of producing firewood and charcoal.  This activity feeds energy-hungry and booming Brazzaville households, but is also contributing to increasing deforestation.

Auberge Ngadziami is a 32-year-old mother of four. She lives in the village of Siassa, in the Pool region. She says, “Instead of farming, I prefer to cut wood and sell it in bundles or as charcoal. The profits are better, especially as the school year begins.” Selling firewood and charcoal earns her enough money to buy school supplies for her children.

In most areas around Kinkala, the capital of Pool region, the main income-generating activity for both men and women is selling firewood and charcoal. But this is depleting the soil and exposing people to food insecurity as they become increasingly reliant on food supplies from Brazzaville.

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Prosper Mayembo is the director of the environment for the Pool region. He says: “Even non-timber forest products such as mushrooms, caterpillars, and asparagus have disappeared from the forests of the Pool region…. My fear is that the Pool region will become a desert if we do not stop cutting trees. There will be no agriculture and we will die of hunger.”

In this region, all you need to do is walk across a field to notice the impressive number of sources that bellow smoke, indicating the presence of charcoal furnaces. Bundles of firewood wait to be picked up by wholesale buyers.

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Jean Leonard Bahouna is a 57-year-old former employee of a cement company called Cidolou in the village of Taba. Now he relies on selling firewood and charcoal to survive. He explains: “We have no work and firewood has become our only source of income. I have been unemployed since 1985. Firewood is the only thing that allows me to take care of my family and my kids’ school fees.”

A bundle of firewood sells for 150 CFA francs ($0.25 US) and a bag of charcoal goes for about 4,000 CFA francs ($6.70 US). On average, a villager can produce and sell up to 100 firewood bundles or 20-50 sacks of charcoal per month.

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Maximin Mboulafini is a Congolese expert in forest management and certification. He says that the level of deforestation is proportional to the poverty of the local people. He explains: “The more people are poor; the more forests suffer from human activities. [Raising people’s awareness about] sustainable management of natural resources is like trying to stab a sword in water.”

While some villagers are becoming aware of the negative impact of deforestation on their lives, at the moment there are no large-scale, sustainable alternatives which could allow villagers to abandon producing firewood and charcoal.