Saturday, 28 May 2016

Coffee versus Charcoal-Trip Reflection

On one of my recent business trips to the beautiful countryside of Ethiopia, I discovered two important experiences; Coffee farming and charcoal production. They are two completely different items but with one essential similarity. Both are sources of income to communities where they are practiced. Inspired by the implications of the practices, I would like to reflect and share on my observation.


Coffee:

Coffee plants growing under the bigger trees
It is obvious that Ethiopians as a whole are mad for coffee. Beyond the local coffee producing farmers and consumers, the nation itself relies heavily on the export of its organic coffee but that is not what I intend to highlight here. Rather my observation that wherever coffee plantations are, the natural world, the forest, in most instances, is in good condition. This has been the case for a long time. The reason, coffee to be productive and even to survive needs shading, and this shading is obtained from the bigger trees surrounding the coffee plantation. So long as coffee continues to provide economic benefit to the communities more than the trees do, we are all safe from the impacts of deforestation and land degradation. The communities will always be taking care of the forest whether they are aware of their contribution in mitigating the impacts of climate change or not.

Charcoal

Preparation for charcoal

Charcoaling-pyrolysis

Due to the fact that most Ethiopians lack access to modern energy, the rural communities produce charcoal to sell to the urban and sub-urban communities so that they use it for cooking. The large and growing demand for charcoal in the cities keep on driving the production of charcoal at a cost of nature even if there is a strong control on the many check points. When it comes to sustainability, the opposite is quite true here. Some may argue that it could be possible to make it sustainable but this is not the case to what I witnessed. Wherever there is charcoal production, especially the extensive ones, the natural world, the forest, is in bad or deteriorating condition. The communities just chop the more than twenty plus years of trees in to logs and burn them down to charcoal to obtain a marginal benefit. And when they do this, it does happen in an inefficient way.

What do you learn?

Well, I do learn that one of the dangerous activities of humanity has always been the negative role it played to destroy the natural world. It is not just only coffee which needs the shading of the bigger trees to survive and thrive in the deep forest. The more we lose the bigger ones, the more the thinner the diversity of nature. That is really sad.

Beyond that, the more humanity keep on deteriorating the natural sink to carbon dioxide and other related polluting  gases, the more we lose the choices to tackle them.

I also learned that, in our collective effort to reduce carbon dioxide and other polluting gases from our atmosphere to the levels we need and in a sustainable and realistic way, we need to find alternative income generating means to the communities more specifically where the natural forest does still exist.

As we can learn from the coffee case, so long as people have other alternative sources of income, there will not be a reason for them to pressure their natural neighbor. On the other hand, no matter how hard we try to control the illegal production of charcoal, if there is even legal production of charcoal at all, without providing alternative substitutes of their causes, it would be unlikely to stop it. 

You just scale it to Africa, to South America, to Asia and so on.....to learn the magnitude and implications of these activities any further.