The Role of Policy and Institutions in Greening the Charcoal Value Chain in Zambia


January 9, 2020 - Mulako Kabisa, Brian P. Mulenga, Hambulo Ngoma, and Mercy Mupeta Kandulu

Mulako Kabisa, Brian P. Mulenga, Hambulo Ngoma, and Mercy Mupeta Kandulu, 2019. The Role of Policy and Institutions in Greening the Charcoal Value Chain in Zambia, Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy Research Paper 167.


In Zambia, agricultural land expansion is responsible for 90 percent of forest cover loss (Mabeta, Mweemba, and Mwitwa 2018), followed by settlement expansion and infrastructure development; its annual deforestation estimated between 167,000 and 300,000 hectares is among the highest worldwide. Charcoal is becoming an increasingly important driver of deforestation and forest degradation due to its increasing role as a cooking and space-heating energy source, predominantly among urban households. The erratic and limited supply of electricity in recent times, coupled with increased electricity tariffs, limited access, acceptability, and prohibitive costs of alternative energy sources has increased urban demand for charcoal—a situation likely to continue in the foreseeable future. The heightened demand for charcoal, which will continue to increase, has far-reaching environmental consequences.

This study sought to find ways in which the charcoal value chain (CVC) can be made more sustainable in Zambia, with a view of reducing charcoal-induced deforestation and global warming. It meant to answer the questions of how charcoal production and trade is governed, lessons learned from constraints experienced in making charcoal production sustainable, and the opportunities for “greening” the charcoal value chain1 . This was done through extensive review of relevant literature, both grey and published, the 2015 Living Conditions Monitoring Survey (LCMS) data, and key informant interviews (KII).

Zambia has a comprehensive policy framework on sustainable management of forestry resources, which recognizes that increased charcoal use is driven by the desire to meet household energy needs and is a livelihood option for many of the poor. The main challenges in sustainably managing resources and greening the CVC include the unorganised nature of production making it difficult to organise and monitor production, limited financing, and weak enforcement and compliance with regulations. There are also cultural myths associated with the use of charcoal to cook food, with some having a clear preference for using it to cook traditional food because it gives the food good taste and/or texture (Tembo, Mulenga, and Sitko 2015; Chidumayo 2002). There are many opportunities to implement sustainable charcoal production for the short- and medium term including financing sustainable charcoal production interventions to facilitate: 1) forming charcoal associations that can be the eyes on the ground for the Forestry Department; 2) sensitization campaigns on sustainably produced charcoal and its importance; 3) providing support to producers by setting up woodlots and nurseries for fast growing species with irrigation support for biomass; 4) support for the development of improved kilns; 5) forestry extension to raise awareness on sustainable production practices and the rules and regulations on licensing; 6) promotion of efficient cookstoves for the general public; and 7) investigating the seepage of charcoal into the region—an area that is still overlooked as a driver of production.

In the long term, there is a need to provide alternative livelihoods appropriate for the agroecological zones to help producers transition from charcoal production, because poverty and lack of employment are some of the main drivers for charcoal production.


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