Rain a disadvantage for local charcoal industry - Namibia Safari and Lodges - Gondwana Collection

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Track Namibia's awesome wildlife.

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Rain a disadvantage for local charcoal industry

Avatar of inke inke - 20. November 2017 - Economics

“Rain is not good for my business. If we have rain we produce less charcoal. The product has to be dried first before it can be sold and processed. When it rains in Britain they have fewer grill parties and order smaller quantities of Namibian charcoal”, says Ian Galloway, the Managing Director of Jumbo Charcoal, one of the largest local companies that processes and exports charcoal. Established in 1989 it was the first company of its kind in Namibia to be internationally certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Usually every little drop of rain is welcome in Namibia. In this country, which is the driest south of the Sahara, water is more valuable than anything else. But rain can have negative effects on Namibia’s charcoal production and on the end use level. During the past three years large volumes of charcoal were produced here. The reason was the prolonged drought which thankfully came to an end with the rainy season in early 2017. As a result of the drought many farmers had been forced to sell much of their livestock, and charcoal became an important source of income – sometimes the only one. 

“For the British market we buy charcoal from 15 farms which are also FSC certified. Five other producers have applied for this international certification. We pay a much better price per ton to certified producers”, says Galloway. An independent inspector of the FSC pays a visit to Jumbo Charcoal and various farms once a year. Strict regulations have to be adhered to in order to qualify for the certification. Apart from the quality of the charcoal, certain aspects of forestry are also taken into account (e.g. no trees with a trunk thicker than 18 cm may be cut down), as well as the accommodation of the charcoal burners and their work wear and working conditions. In addition to the international inspections Jumbo conducts its own checks at the producers’ sites three times a year to ensure that regulations are adhered to. The costs are borne by Jumbo.

Some 15,000 tons of fast lighting charcoal are exported to Britain. As part of the production process the charcoal is sorted according to size and treated with liquid wax obtained from South Africa. Packaged in paper bags holding 500 gram or one kilogram, this charcoal is ideally suited for outdoor grilling. The whole bag can be set alight and the packaging used as firelighter. The charcoal will be ready for grilling in no time at all. Bags of 5 kg, 10 kg and 15 kg are also available. 

Namibian charcoal is also exported to Greece, where it is used by countless small restaurants. “Charcoal is in high demand abroad, Namibia could export a lot more”, says Galloway. He explains the adding value tends to be difficult because much of what is needed for that has to be imported from South Africa and transport costs are considerable. There are several local companies which buy up charcoal, package and export it, but a large part of the production is bought up by South African companies and shipped to South Africa. Jumbo annually exports some 10,000 tons of fine bits of charcoal, which cannot be processed by its factory in Okahandja, to South Africa where it is pressed into briquettes.  

Dirk Heinrich

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