Load shedding and charcoal use in Zambia: What are the implications on forest resources?

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  • Fuel wood make up a large share of the energy budgets among households in several Sub-Saharan African countries, and in Zambia, it constitutes between 76% and 90%.
  • Load shedding is undoubtedly one of the primary drivers of increased production, trade, and demand for charcoal among Zambian households between 2013 and 2015. The number of charcoal kilns produced per person has increased, with incomes of charcoal producers increasing by over 53.2% between 2013 and 2015. The income of charcoal traders has doubled to ZMW 978 per month, while charcoal prices have increased by ZMW 15 per 25 Kg bag.
  • Producers reported that preferred species [i.e., trees of the genera Brachystegia Spp (Musamba, Kaputu, Muombo and Musompa), Julbernadia (Mutondo) and Isoberlinia (Mutobo)] have continued to disappear resulting in harvesting and the use of alternative and unsuitable or even undesirable tree species such as some fruit trees [e.g., Uapaca kirkiana (Masuku) Mull. Arg. and Piliostigma thonningii (Musekese)].
  • Prolonged load shedding in Zambia is likely to lead to more clearing of forests and woodlands. Unlike clearing land for agriculture, this is expected to lead to loss of forest resources, and associated ecosystem services.
  • Ultimately, the high demand for charcoal arising from load shedding guarantees economic sustainability of charcoal production. However, ecological sustainability may not be attainable given that the standing stock in the natural forests and woodlands is declining. Further, if unabated this would worsen climate change impacts.

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