Eco-Charcoal Zambia project has been designed to address and confront unsustainable charcoal production in Rufunsa District, which is identified as a major driver of deforestation in the region, primarily driven by consumption in greater Lusaka. About quarter of Lusaka charcoal production come from Rufunsa and Chongwe districts. The amount of charcoal demand is increasing while alternative sources of energy do not yet provide solutions in sufficient scale to reduce unsustainable resource extraction. Even with increases of these alternatives, charcoal consumption is likely to remain high for the foreseeable future due to people's familiarity with it and certain advantages over other types of fuel. In Rufunsa District, deforestation rates have been estimated at eleven times higher than the national average – to put this into context, if deforestation took place at a national scale on this level, the entire country would be deforested in approximately 15 years.
Charcoal, however, can be produced in a sustainable way following sound land management and production steps. Such methods, actually were practiced in Zambia until 1970s by the Forestry Department following rotational harvesting of selected forest areas. Eco-Charcoal Zambia has refined such production model following rigorous scientific assessment.
The project is currently implemented on approximately 150 hectares of community forest land in Ndubulula, Namanongo, and Mwe'shangombe communities, with expansion to other areas soon. The project revolves around the three key interventions:
Sustainable Harvesting System
Introduction of the “coupe and shelterbelt” sustainable forest harvesting system, which allows for regrowth and regeneration of forests, allowing charcoal to be produced as a renewable resource. The specific activities include:
- Demarcation of protected area of community forest used for sustainable harvesting.
- Demarcation of harvesting “strips” (“coupes”) and implementation of sustainable harvesting techniques following the “Coupe and Shelterbelt” design, which allows for clear but selective cutting within demarcated “strip” areas that are buffered by “shelterbelts,” and which is proven to allow for rapid ecological regeneration.
- Harvesting following eighteen-year rotation cycle for optimum forest regeneration potential.
- Implementation of improved/sustainable cutting practices techniques that allow for forest regeneration following harvesting (e.g. coppicing, selective replanting of fast growing species).
- Implementation of improved forest management techniques (e.g. forest protection from hot late-season fires and over-grazing).
Improved Kiln Technology
Promotion of higher-efficiency kilns that make use of entire trees and produce more charcoal (efficiency of about 20% compared to 8%-10% for traditional kilns), reducing the number of trees that must be cut to produce certain amounts of charcoal.
Increased Payments to Producers
BCP works with independent producers (called "charpreneurs"), mostly former traditional charcoal makers. BCP trains charpreneurs harvesting and efficient production methods. BCP also signs contracts with eco-charcoal producers and provides incentive payments of 20%-25% above market price for charcoal that is produced sustainably. Additionally, BCP pays dividends to communities if the production and conservation targets are met.