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Stakeholders Gather in Liberia to Discuss Challenges Facing the Country’s Charcoal Industry

The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency and the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) of Liberia recently hosted a workshop focusing on the challenges and opportunities facing Liberia’s charcoal sector.  Among the approximately 50 participants attending the workshop in February were representatives from key government agencies including the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural and Renewable Energy Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, and others. The industry was represented by the National Charcoal Union of Liberia (NACUL). Representatives of UNDP, USAID, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including NGO Coalition and Conservation International, also participated.

The workshop followed a report that examines the impacts of rubber tree harvesting for biomass production on Liberia’s domestic charcoal producers and consumers. The workshop and report were supported through MIGA's Environmental and Social Challenges Fund for Africa, which is funded by a grant from the Government of Japan.

MIGA client Vatenfall AB is an investor in Buchanan Renewables Fuel in Liberia. BR Fuel converts unproductive rubber trees into woodchips and then exports the rubber wood biomass to power companies that use them to reduce carbon emissions by substituting woodchips for coal.

The workshop was opened by the Honorable Chea Garley, Assistant Minister of Agriculture. Garley noted that the charcoal trade was one of Liberia’s most important pro-poor industries, but that it is not well understood and there is too little data available on the charcoal trade, including the potential negative impacts on the environment. He urged a deeper analysis of the sector to better understand production, marketing, and overall value chain aspects.

FDA Managing Director Moses Wogbeh also noted the importance of obtaining more data on the growing sector, which is largely unregulated. The lack of regulation of the sector was a recurring theme throughout the workshop.

George Weaymie, President of the National Charcoal Union of Liberia (NACUL) noted that the estimated value of the charcoal industry in Liberia is between US$15 and $20 million annually, with 95 percent of Liberia’s population depending on biomass for their livelihoods. Further, most charcoal producers are unemployed men, youth, and women. Given its prominence in Liberia, he stated that charcoal should no longer be relegated to the informal sector.

In the ensuing discussions, participants discussed some of the specific challenges facing the sector, including the availability of wood for charcoalers and accessibility to farms and plantations, workers’ conditions, and the soaring food and fuel costs that are contributing to increased production costs.  Given the informal nature of the sector, there is also limited capacity to regulate the sector and to collect accurate data on the supply chain.

Looking ahead, participants identified three areas where further work is needed: identification of data gaps; improving efficiency and capacity building; and development of a regulatory framework for the charcoal sector. FDA agreed to take the lead on moving the agenda forward to address the many challenges facing the sector, but all agreed that the active participation of other stakeholders including NACUL, other government agencies, the private sector, multilaterals, and other donors will be essential to achieving results.