Charcoal-burners in Somali Region find jobs in eco-friendly fuel plant



Monday February 21, 2022

(ERGO) – Khadar Tubeec Sugaal was sentenced to 17 months in prison in June 2020 after being caught cutting trees to burn charcoal. Today, he is among a group of men working at an Ethiopian government-established production plant making charcoal from parasitic Algaroba trees in Kebri Dehar, in Somali Region.

He is in charge of cutting, collecting and preparing the shrubs for processing at a monthly salary of $180, which provides for his family of seven.

He works with 60 other men, 40 of whom used to burn trees for charcoal illegally as a living.

“We were approached and told they needed people to be trained to cut the Algaroba trees and make a living out of it. I was selected. We are only allowed to cut the Algaroba trees, we have stopped deforestation of other trees,” he said.

Khadar used to work with six other men cutting five big trees such as umbrella thorn trees (Acacia tortilis) a day to burn charcoal. They sold the charcoal and shared the money, getting about $20 each week.

Khadar lost his herd of 80 goats in the 2016 drought and said he was forced into charcoal burning as an alternative source of income.
“I never went to school. I was a herdsman all my life. When I lost the livestock, I turned to burning trees for charcoal to sustain myself and earn a living,” he said.

Khadar’s brother in Kebri Beyah took care of the family’s rent and food while he was in prison. When he was cutting trees illegally, he had little time for his family as he and his colleagues used to hide in the bush to escape the authorities. He now spends good time with his family, without fear.

Abshir Hiis Hussein is the head of the group working at the government-run charcoal plant. He told Radio Ergo that the government brought two engineers to assist in the mechanised parts of the production process.

Abshir said they produce more than 100 bags of charcoal a week, which are sold in Shilaabo and Kebri Dehar districts for $8 per bag. Charcoal made from prohibited trees costs $12 per bag. The money pays the workers, fuel for the generator, and maintenance costs.

Muhsin Abdirashid Ali had been cutting trees to burn charcoal for more than 10 years. He was persuaded by the authorities in Kebri Beyah to stop deforestation and now works at the charcoal plant supporting his family of six on the same salary as Khadar.

Muhsin said he felt relieved of the heavy work involved in felling large trees and burning charcoal in the traditional illegal way, as much of the process in the plant is mechanised.

The charcoal production plant was established by the ministry of environment in its efforts to protect the trees in the region and reduce the proliferating Algaroba shrubs in Korahe zone.



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