Charcoal value chains in Kenya: a 20-year synthesis

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Biomass fuels remain a very important energy source for millions of Kenyans, consistently meeting close to 70% of domestic energy requirements over the decades. The charcoal sub-sector is one of the most important sources of employment and is reported to be a major source of livelihood for about 0.64 million people, with a market value worth billion. Woodfuel, especially in the form of charcoal, is produced in rural areas and consumed in peri-urban and urban areas, moving through connections between numerous actors, thus forming value chains and networks. The aim of this study was to conduct a literature review to investigate, document and map these value chains from production to consumption in order to assess overall economic significance of charcoal and identify opportunities and priority interventions for developing sustainable charcoal value chains. The value chain analysis approach was used to determine the flow of woodfuel and ascertain distribution of income and profit within and among groups of actors along the value chain. The literature review established that the main value chain actors in Kenya comprise wood producers, charcoal producers, transporters, wholesalers, retailers and consumers. In some cases, the actors are supported by agents and brokers who facilitate linkages and transactions along various stages of the value chain. For many of the charcoal-producing households, income from sale of charcoal accounted for over 50% of the total household income. Monthly income of transporters was estimated to have increased more than 1,100 times between 2000 and 2013, with bribes paid at checkpoints accounting for 20-30% of the final retail price. Net profits of retailers were estimated to be 14%. The charcoal value chain is dominated by men, except in retailing where women accounted for 57% of the actors. In addition, charcoal value chains do have negative environmental and health impacts which can be mitigated by adoption of appropriate production and consumption technologies. The review shows that, charcoal value chains remain an important energy, livelihood and income source for many in Kenya but is increasingly associated with negative environment and health outcomes. However, in the short- to medium-term there is need to increase investments in the sub-sector and develop sustainable and competitive woodfuel value chains.

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