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(Tanzania) How energy sources are linked to forests loss

Elias Msuya via The Citizen Tz via Factiva

Dar es Salaam. Energy is a crucial factor in economic development. It is, however, unfortunate that some human actions in the process of extracting energy sources end up with devastating results, particularly damaging the environment.

There is ample scientific evidence today showing how search for energy sources has led to the destruction of forests, leading to increased pace of the changing climate with disastrous ends.

Data show that developed economies consume more energy per capita compared to developing ones, but they also have capacity to develop new sources or secure imports compared to the latter.

Existing statistics show that by around 1990, Tanzania’s forested area covered some 39.9 per cent of its land, the equivalent of 35,257,000 hectares. However, between 1990 and 2000, Tanzania was losing an average of 400,000 hectares of trees per year, that is close to 1 per cent of its forested area, which double the international rate of 0.5 per cent.

In Tanzania, use of biomass as a source of energy covers about 90 per cent, while electricity and petroleum provide 2 per cent and 8 per cent respectively.

According to Wuppertal Institute, in 2011, 90.8 per cent of wood harvested was used as wood fuel.

Most of the wood fuel and charcoal are consumed by households, meaning that as population keeps growing, there is increased demand for fuel, hence more trees felled. Other sources of fuel include wood waste from saw mills, timber working and solid waste like sugar bagasse waste, coffee and rice husks.

Also there are natural forces like wind, hydro, nuclear, solar, geothermal and tidal but they need to be developed, something which will take long given the fact hat they are capital intensive.


Prof Romanus Ishengoma of the Sokoine University of Agriculture (Sua) says has researched to establish how much charcoal business has contributed to rapid deforestation.

Citing statistics for 2009 to 2012, Prof Ishengoma says up to 1.7 million tonnes of charcoal were consumed in Tanzania (half of it in Dar es Salaam).

“About 28,500 bags (of 60-80kg each) were delivered in Dar es Salaam daily in 2009, or more than 48,000 bags in 2012. The contribution of charcoal to the economy was estimated at $650 million in 2009,” he says.

He says charcoal is a massive industry, providing livelihoods for thousands of people along the supply chain.

In clarifying on how trees are diminishing due to charcoal business, Prof Ishengoma says 10 to 12 trees are required to make a tonne of charcoal.

“Until 2012, a total of 583 hectares of trees were cut down daily to make charcoal. More than 300,000 families are employed in the business and the number has been increasing,” he says.

From his experience, he says, there are no strict regulations to help monitor charcoal making, hence makers have no registration nor restrictions and after making it they transport it using different methods including motor bikes, bicycles, private and public cars.

However, the Tanzania Forest Service Agency (TFS) has been awarding licences to charcoal traders and transporters.

“It is almost a free access to wood resources, leading to deforestation. It is characterised by unsustainably harvested mainly from miombo woodlands without payments being made for the raw material (wood), and licences and levies largely evaded.

“It is wrongly viewed as a ‘traditional’, ‘inferior’, as retrogressive and environmentally destructive, tolerated rather than encouraged energy source that will grow less important, as economic development occurs and ‘modern’ energy sources become more widely available” he says.

However, the National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty II (NSGRP II or Mkukuta II) of July 2010 (following Mkukuta I in 2005) holds the same vision of Tanzania transitioning from wood fuel to modern fuels.

Mkukuta I did set a target for reducing the proportion of population depending on wood energy for cooking from 90 per cent in 2003 to 80 per cent by 2010. But the target wasn’t achieved.

The target of reducing dependence on wood fuel in the national energy consumption by 10 per cent in 2010 was not achieved.

Prof Ishengoma says Tanzania is today where America was in 1850, therefore it can’t abandon biomass uses rapidly, though the wood deficit is expecting to increase from 19.5 million m3 in 2012 to 47.2 million m3 in year 2030.

“Wood energy is the primary energy source accounting for 90 per cent of all energy in Tanzania; more than 95 per cent of all households energy consumed in the country will still play an important role in the national energy mix for many years to come,” he argues.


Responding to Prof Ishengoma’s arguments, the Tanzania Forests Service Agency (TFS) chief executive officer, Prof Dos Santos Silayo, says they have set strategies to decrease charcoal business to conserve environments.

“If you followed clearly, energy sources in Tanzania largely depend on biomass, so even if we won’t collect levies on charcoal it won’t stop the business. However, the levies collection from charcoal is only about 3 per cent of our collection,” he says.

He adds that, the collections from charcoal have been put in such a way as to curb the business and protect trees. Instead, he says that they have been engaging other stakeholders to produce alternative sources of charcoal including sawdust and other biomass wastes.

“So far there some hotels in Dar es Salaam and schools which use charcoal from biomass waste and also we are now restricting charcoal production from trees from its source by reducing licences. If previously we offered 10 licences, we now offer five,” says Prof Silayo.

Renewable energy

On the other hand, renewable energy is still at low level in Tanzania. Some service providers say they sell the products according to its quality.

“So far we have connected more than 90 houses in Tanzania which we estimate more than 450,000 are connected from those families,” says Seth Mathemu who is the marketing manager from Mobisol.

“Some people have concerned by our cost on connection, but we do so because of the quality our services,” he adds.

Apart from the cost of connections, some companies are facing contract challenges with the government, something that put them at risk of loss in their projects. Mr Prosper Magali, who is the director of project and business development of Ensol company, says investment to the sector is risky.

“Some investors signed their contracts with government on their favourable conditions, but now the government has revoked the contracts, hence put them at business risky,” he says.

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