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Monopoly on Electricity Supply Contributes to Deforestation

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A report published in November 2009 by the Tanzania Traditional Energy Development and Environmental Organization (TaTeDO) revealed that over 1600 tonnes of charcoal are consumed daily in Dar es Salaam, which is over 400 tonnes more than in 2002. This means that the residents of Dar es Salaam consume about 590,000 tonnes of charcoal annually. Factors related to issues of availability, affordability and lack of alternative sources of energy could be cited as the causes of overdependence on charcoal as a main source of energy. Hiked electricity tariffs coupled with unreliable supply have led to increased number of households and institutions that resort to charcoal as the main source of energy, particularly in the urban centres. In Tanzania, for example, it is estimated that about 70 percent of charcoal users use it as the only source of energy while the remaining 30 percent uses charcoal alongside other sources of energy such as electricity and solar.

Unchecked high electricity tariffs are partly attributed to the monopoly enjoyed by the electricity generation and Supply Company, which is the supplier of this important commodity. Tanzania Electricity Supply Company (TANESCO) has been the only electricity supply company in Tanzania since independence in 1961. A similar situation exists in Kenya where the Kenya Power and Lightning Company (KPLC) is the sole supplier of electricity in the country. In the recent times, a power generation company known as "Kenya Generation (KENGEN)" in Kenya was incorporated to generate and supply electricity for distribution by the KPLC. Lack of competition in the electricity generation and supply sector is blamed for inefficiency and high costs of energy in the two countries. As a result of this, many individuals and institutions such as the prisons, hospitals and schools have opted to use charcoal as the main source of energy and a substitute for electricity.

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The cost of electricity generation and supply is made worse by the overdependence on Hydroelectric Power (HEP) as the main source of energy. HEP is weather dependent and the unpredictable weather, due to climate change has made the use of HEP unreliable. Power rationing, sometimes extending up to fifteen hours a day is a common phenomenon in a number of Sub-Saharan Africa countries during the dry seasons.

High electricity tariffs and reliability of electricity supply are therefore two important factors that contribute to deforestation due to charcoal production, to meet the growing energy demand. It is reported that over 50 percent of the deforestation witnessed in Africa South of the Sahara is attributed to charcoal burning. The TaTeDo report pointed out that between six and eight cubic meters of wood are required to produce one tonne of charcoal. This means, for instance, that residents of Dar es Salaam alone require more than 70,000 cubic meters of wood to make charcoal they consume annually. Deforestation has several negative consequences to national economies and the environment. Forests are known to protect water catchment areas and hence deforestation may lead to decrease in water supply which is required for social, economic and domestic uses. Deforestation may also expose the land and make an area vulnerable to negative effects of climate change due to alteration of the hydrologic cycle. Forests act as carbon sinks hence deforestation can contribute to increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Furthermore, burning of wood for charcoal releases significant amount of CO2 to the atmosphere. It is reported, for instance, that the trees that make up the Miombo woodlands are the most preferred trees for charcoal making and they are known to contain about 47 percent carbon, which is released to the atmosphere when burning them for charcoal.

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In order to reduce deforestation due to charcoal making, governments could provide subsidies to electricity supply agencies in order to make the cost of electricity affordable particularly for the poor. But this has not been an option after the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) introduced their infamous Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in the mid 1980s. Under SAPs governments in sub-Sahara Africa were required to remove subsidies in the social services delivery and introduce cost sharing policies. While the aim of SAPs was to liberalize the economy by allowing private sectors to participate in social services delivery and hence increase efficiency, this has not been the case in the electricity supply sector. There has been a monopoly in electricity supply for unknown reasons.

Removing monopoly on power generation and supply, by allowing many companies to invest in the power sector and diversifying sources of energy could probably remove unchecked high electricity tariffs and hence increase efficiency. This could make the service reliable, accessible and affordable to many people particularly the poor and hence reduce overdependence on charcoal as the only source of energy. In order to do this, political will and participation and support from different stakeholders are essential.

The other option, as TaTedo report proposes, is to invest in energy saving technology such as the use of improved wood-fuel stoves for both firewood and charcoal; and improved charcoal making kilns. Improved wood-fuel stoves are envisaged to reduce the amount of charcoal used per household/institution by reducing the amount of charcoal lost during use. Similarly, the use of improved charcoal making kilns is expected to reduce the amount of charcoal lost in the process of making them. Although in the short run this option is seen as effective in reducing deforestation, it may not be sustainable in the long run particularly due to human population increase that will require more wood for charcoal making.

Written by: Donald Anthony Mwiturubani, Senior Researcher, Environmental Security Programme, Nairobi.

 

 

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