Using bamboo charcoal rather than forest wood in Africa has the potential to provide an excellent source of heat, economic opportunities, all while saving African forests. Charcoal is used for both heat and cooking in large areas of Africa and is seen as a major factor in the decimation of forests and the desertification of parts of the continent.
According to PhysOrg, African nations are working with China and the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) to shift charcoal and firewood production from forest trees to bamboo. Switching to bamboo would preserve African forests while providing a sustainable way to obtain fuel for cooking and heating. Farming bamboo also creates new economic opportunities for the populace.
Bamboo has a high energy content which makes it a great source for biomass fuel. It grows well in the African climate. Not only that, it will provide a renewable source for charcoal and firewood because it grows back so quickly, something that cannot be said for forests.
The pervasive drought across the Horn of Africa has been attributed to deforestation. While cutting down trees has been the traditional method of obtaining firewood and charcoal, it has also destroyed the environment. Bamboo’s ability to quickly regrow in the same area, will mean less environmental damage.
It takes seven to ten tons of raw wood to produce one ton of wood charcoal, making wood fuel collection an important driver of deforestation on a continent of nearly one billion people who have few alternative fuel sources.
"Ensuring food security in a changing climate is one of the major challenges of our era. It is well known that the destruction of forests has negative repercussions on livelihoods and sustainable agriculture as it feeds into a cycle of climate change, drought and poverty." said Dr. Patrick Verkooijen, Head Agriculture and Climate Change of the World Bank. "Feeding people in decades to come will require ingenuity and innovation to produce more food on less land in more sustainable ways".
The Union of Concerned Scientists advocates the use of biomass for sustainable energy. When approached properly, biomass like bamboo can provide a source of renewable energy with minimal negative environmental impact. If the wrong approach is used it can result in devastating environmental consequences such as those seen in Somalia.
If not managed carefully, biomass for energy can be harvested at unsustainable rates, damage ecosystems, produce harmful air pollution, consume large amounts of water, and produce net greenhouse emissions.
The partnership between INBAR, China and various African Nations is determined to switch biomass production from the unsustainable damaging practice seen in the past to a sustainable resource. Moving to bamboo farming for biomass production is how they hope to accomplish that goal.