Guinea: Intensive charcoal production is accelerating the effects of climate change (Climate Radio)

| November 14, 2016

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Little rain, heat waves, and poor access to drinking water in rural areas. That’s what people in Fria, Guinea, live with every day because of climate change. And it’s worsened by the intensive deforestation caused by people felling trees to make charcoal.

Since the local aluminum plant closed in 2012, charcoal has been the major source of income and jobs for people in Fria, particularly young people without formal training. For these workers, it’s about survival, explains Mamadou Moussa Bah, who lives in Adamasorya village in Fria.

He says: “When you make a chair, you have to wait several months before someone purchases it. This is why we have left that, and we are in the bush…. If they ask us to stop producing charcoal, the state will have to see [what happens].”

While charcoal provides a good income for people in Fria, its harsh impacts on the environment are visible in dried-up rivers and poor crop yields.

Zao Guilavogui is the director for environment, water, and forests in Fria. He says charcoal production threatens the local environment.

He explains: “The consequences are immense. You know we are talking about climate change. Every day, we say “It’s hot.” We say that the rivers are dry. The soil no longer produces. So, the more we cut, the more we provoke drought and drought does not allow anything to grow…. It is the desert advancing.”

Experts say 80% of the people in Guinea use charcoal as a source of energy. Other sources, like gas or electricity, are not as accessible, partly because of cost. For these people, switching to something more sustainable is not easy.

Mr. Guilavogui says that charcoal production is a way of life for people in Fria. He explains: “I will tell you honestly that we in Fria have problems. This is the easiest way that residents have found to earn money. All we have to do is enter into the bush, cut trees, burn them, and [we] have bags to sell.”

He adds that, while there have always been charcoal producers, everyone is making charcoal now—and many are abandoning farming. He explains, “Farmers don’t want to grow groundnuts any more, they don’t want to grow fonio. They cut trees and make charcoal because you can easily get money with this activity.”

But environmentalists say a switch is necessary to protect forests, soils, and crop yields. They are calling for efforts to promote alternative energy sources, plant more trees, and find a different source of income.

To listen to the full audio story (in French) from Climate Radio, go to: