CIFOR–ICRAF launches its first three briefs on sustainable woodfuel value chains in Africa

By: Yvonne Baraza

Stakeholders in the energy sector in Africa at the Conference in Ghana. Photo: Tropenbos, Ghana.

At the 2021 Woodfuel conference in Ghana, CIFOR–ICRAF launched the first three briefs in a series called “Pathways to more sustainable woodfuel value chains in Africa”. The conference, held on the 23rd to 25th on November 2021, took place at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology campus in the city of Kumasi in the Ashanti region.

Woodfuel is the primary energy source for cooking for over 60% of households in sub-Saharan Africa, contributing to the food security and nutritional needs of millions of people. Due to the lack of alternative energy sources and growing charcoal demand from urban centres, woodfuel production is expected to increase in the coming decades. The sector provides income to millions of people, including small-scale producers and collectors, traders, transporters and sellers, who rely on woodfuel revenues for their livelihoods.

Despite its socioeconomic importance, the woodfuel production and trade sector is still primarily informal. It is not organized, has weak or inadequate legal frameworks, and contributes little to government revenues. In combination with increasing demand, the lack of woodfuel governance results in unsustainable wood harvesting that causes forest degradation and greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, sustainable woodfuel value chains can positively contribute to livelihoods by generating household income from trade and a secure supply of cooking fuel while mitigating adverse environmental impacts.

There is a need for an integrated approach to woodfuel value chain dynamics that considers multiple functions of forest-agricultural landscapes and outcomes for livelihoods and forest governance. CIFOR–ICRAF aims to support and further this approach through its work on the Governing Multifunctional Landscapes (GML) Sustainable Woodfuel project.

The conference sought to promote understanding and sharing of knowledge, good practices and solutions among and between scholars, practitioners, private sector and policymakers on sustainable and equitable woodfuel value chains, and to advocate and explore strategies for scaling up.

A panel on effective woodfuel management in multifunctional landscapes organized by CIFOR–ICRAF noted there is a lot to learn from the different regions. There is also a need for stronger multistakeholder and cross-sectoral collaborations, as well as faster implementation of policy to formalize the sector and adopt technology.

“The push for effective charcoal regulation measures and the need to work with both the national and traditional governments and more active involvement of communities to enhance joint management of forests and charcoal will gradually address the issues that arise in charcoal production, fair trade and the participatory management of forests. Therefore, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that the policy is well implemented,” said Deuteronomy Kasaro, Principal Forestry Officer, Zambia.

Funded by the European Union, the GML project component on sustainable woodfuel aims to contribute to knowledge, options and engagement for more sustainable woodfuel value chains across sub-Saharan Africa.

Speaking at the closing ceremony CIFOR–ICRAF Managing Director, Dr Robert Nasi, said there is a need for an integrated approach to the woodfuel value chain management that considers the multiple functions of forests and agricultural landscape and livelihood outcomes beyond national borders. “The sustainable woodfuel brief series provides documented experiences on how better practices within the woodfuel value chain and related governance can positively transform the woodfuel sector to benefit livelihoods through energy supply and income-generating activities, while reducing the negative environmental impact on forests and agricultural landscapes, and at the same time mitigating climate change.”

The conference was organized by a consortium of research institutions and networks (CIFOR, ICRAF, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, University of Copenhagen, AFORPOLIS and IUFRO) and with the support of FAO in close collaboration with the Government of Ghana, namely the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, the Ministry of Environment, Technology and Innovation, the Ministry of Energy, the Ghana Energy Commission, the Ghana Forestry Commission and the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency.

The series of briefs launched at the conference provides documented experience on how better practices within woodfuel value chains and related governance can positively transform sectors. On the one hand, they can benefit livelihoods through energy supply and income-generating activities. On the other, they can reduce negativeenvironmental impacts on forest-agricultural landscapes and mitigate climatechange.

The series describes findings, insights and analyses from interventions from 2018 to 2021 of the GML project component on sustainable woodfuel. In particular, it looks at experiences from woodfuel value chains in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Zambia.

The first brief, Carbonization 2.0: How to produce more charcoal with less wood and emissions (, highlights key lessons on training to enhance the capacity and technical skills of charcoal producers. It combines awareness-raising on the benefits of sustainable charcoal; on improved charcoal processes among policymakers at different levels; and on the use of simple mechanisms to monitor improved kiln techniques (e.g. self- and peer-to-peer monitoring by cooperatives and incentivizing more sustainably produced charcoal to compete with illegally produced charcoal). It also examines lessons around facilitation and capacity development of producer groups or cooperatives, and recognition of their legal status.

The second brief, Women – the recurring anomaly in the charcoal sector: Gender-responsive approaches for more inclusive, equitable and sustainable outcomes (, is based on cases from Cameroon, Kenya and Zambia. It provides critical lessons on adopting and consistently implementing a gender-responsive approach. It also highlights synergies that ought to be identified and leveraged between more efficient and sustainable value chains on the one hand, and women’s empowerment and well-being on the other.

The third brief, From laissez-faire to organized groups: A short history of sustainable charcoal producer associations in Kenya and Zambia (, highlights key lessons on charcoal production in Kenya and Zambia, which has traditionally been informal. It also discusses the role of charcoal producer associations in adopting a unified approach for ensuring development of a more sustainable charcoal value chain. This includes transparent, consistent and coordinated regulatory, institutional mechanisms that incentivize compliance, as well as penalize unsustainable practices.

The first three brief series are now officially published and can be accessed on: