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Is charcoal production in Brachystegia-Julbernardia woodlands of Zambia sustainable?

Chidumayo, Emmanuel Ngulube
Biomass and bioenergy 2019 v.125 pp. 1-7
Brachystegia, biomass, charcoal, cordwood, cutting, employment, energy, hinterland, rain, towns, urban areas, woodlands, Zambia
The bulk of the charcoal used in urban areas of Zambia is produced in old-growth (OG) woodlands that are receding further and further away in the hinterlands of towns. The present study was undertaken to assess whether the current charcoal production system in Brachystegia-Julbernardia (miombo) woodlands in Zambia is sustainable with respect to employment generation and biomass regeneration. Miombo woodlands are divided into dry (mean annual rainfall 700–1000 mm) and wet (>1000–1500 mm). Data from OG, re-growth (RG) and coupes were used in the assessment. Cord wood biomass of 56 t ha−1 in dry and 73 t ha−1 in wet miombo woodlands were significantly different resulting in differential charcoal yields of 4.04 and 6.64 t ha−1, respectively. Predicted cord wood accumulation in RG of 50 years old is estimated at 20 t ha−1 in dry miombo and 65 t ha−1 in wet miombo. At this rate of cord wood accumulation, charcoal production in dry miombo is considered unsustainable because it would require 2.3 ha of RG to produce the same amount of charcoal as in OG miombo. However, in spite of the higher production in wet miombo, it is estimated that cutting cycles of 50–55 years would be required to have charcoal yields that are similar to those currently observed in OG wet miombo woodlands. It is therefore recommended that strategies that contribute to the sustainability of charcoal production, employment generation and household energy security in the country be developed and implemented.