Okahandja, 16 October 2019. Charcoal makes a significant contribution to Namibia’s economy. The Namibia Charcoal Association (NCA) estimates that the sector is employing close to 10,000 workers this year. At a NCA field day in Okahandja on Wednesday, farmers informed themselves on how to realise the “money in the bush”.
Estimates for 2019 are that up to 200,000 tonnes will be produced in Namibia (from 120,000 in 2018). Training programmes are being rolled out by a number of organisations, including NCA. They cover harvesting processes, packing of kilns, selection of wood and a range of technologies such as retorts and so called hybrid technology.
“We are encouraging farmers to diversify,” says Michael Degé, NCA manager. “There are a number of interesting investment opportunities. Charcoal is a good means to start other businesses on your farm. Namibia still imports mulch, trellises, fencing, which we can produce locally. Also, by-products of charcoal production such as humic acid are interesting opportunities.”
Humic acid can be harvested during the charcoal making process with a sophisticated but simple extraction unit. If the extraction unit is properly designed, humid acid, tar, oils, turpentine and alcohols can be extracted in one process. NCA will showcase these and other charcoal related products and processes at a Technology Day on 20 November in Outjo.
Markets for by-products and refined charcoal products such as biochar are growing and so is the market for certified charcoal. The market for not certified charcoal seems to be declining. Namibia’s charcoal is exported mainly to Europe and South Africa. Customers in Europe trust the certification by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Other markets are also increasingly calling for certification. Many South African retail outlets such as Checkers, PicknPay, Spar and Woolworths will be switching to FSC certified charcoal in 2020. However, South Africa will still also handle local and international markets for not certified charcoal.
FSC is an international organisation that provides a system for voluntary certification. It promotes responsible management of forest resources and ecosystem services. A further focus are workers’ rights and employment conditions.
FSC sets a number of rules for production and marketing but at the same time it calls for compliance to national legislation. “FSC compliments our national regulations and laws. In many cases, FSC principles and criteria ensure that we comply with our own national regulations. FSC therefore helps us to bridge gaps in implementation and control,” explains Stephan Bezuidenhout of Environmental Compliance Consultancy. “We as environmental consultants ensure FSC compliance and thereby work closely with government departments. For example, my colleague from the Directorate of Forestry and myself often drive out to farms and check them together.”
There are a number of options for FSC certification. Most common today in Namibia are “group scheme certificates” where farmer have supply agreements with a certain producer. In addition,
single site certificates for medium scale operations are available as are “slimf certificates” for small or low intensity managed forests.
The FSC standard has been adapted to the specific Namibian conditions. For example, FSC demands that title deed, land certificate and other documents are required. However, in Namibia, these documents were already handed in to the Directorate of Forestry when applying for a harvesting permit. The new Namibian FSC standard now assumes that all these documents are in place when a harvesting permit has been issued by the Directorate of Forestry. The Namibian standard thus simplifies the process.
FSC Southern Africa reported in September 2019 that 568,000 hectares in Namibia are certified FSC farm land. The number is rapidly growing and should reach 900,000 by the end of this year. “With the FSC standard we are making a significant socio-economic impact in Namibia, as it helps us to improve workers’ conditions and income. That is one of the many reasons why we at NCA like FSC,” says Michael Degé. “FSC opens markets and protects the industry for the future.”