The increasing use of charcoal and deforestation

THE masses of Nigerians have resorted to the use of charcoal to cook because of the increase in the price of domestic gas. A 12.5kg of gas that used to sell for between N3,500 and N4,000 now goes for  between N6000 and N7000, while the 5kg which initially sold  for between N1,700 and N1,800 now goes for N3,000. Also, the price of kerosene per litre has risen to as much as N400 in many markets and other retail outlets. It seems Nigeria is heading for its worst domestic energy crisis with grave implications for deforestation.

Kerosene used to be the main alternative to firewood and charcoal in many homes until recently when the Federal Government intervened to deepen the use of gas for domestic cooking. Refined Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) is considered to be a safe, affordable, convenient, and cleaner fuel for use all over the world. It is widely believed to have clear benefits over traditional biofuels in terms of impact on health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that if half the number of people in the world currently cooking with solid fuels switch to domestic gas, there will be improvement in health and productivity, with an estimated gain of more than $900 billion over the next decade. Indeed, there is a growing consensus that sufficient supply of clean energy is central to reducing poverty and hunger, and to improving the health and lives of women and children generally. To achieve sustainable development, energy poverty must be tackled.

Nigeria in 2016, according to statistics from the Nigeria Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association (LPGA), consumed 385,000 metric tonnes of LPG, up from the 2013 consumption of 250,000 metric tonnes.  The current level of consumption in spite of this increment is considered too low when compared with Ghana, Senegal, Cameroon and Kenya’s utilisation. But the effort to further deepen its use is being threatened by the skyrocketing price. The marketers’ association has maintained that the diversion of vessels berthing and discharging at the Pipelines Products Marketing Company (PPMC) terminal to private terminals is largely responsible for the current hike in prices of domestic gas.

According to this view, officials of the Marine Transportation Department of the PPMC, in connivance with a private gas terminal, are frustrating the efforts of gas marketers to gain access to cheap products. They deliberately create bottlenecks that make it impossible for vessels to discharge at the PPMC jetties, forcing them to use the facilities of the private terminal, which has in turn seized the opportunity to hike prices.  However, the Executive Director, Supply and Distribution, PPMC, Justin Ezeala, has insisted that the diversion to private terminals was inevitable. He clarified that given the obsolete state of the jetties, priority is given to vessels carrying petrol, diesel and kerosene, vessels carrying LPG had to be diverted to other terminals to prevent them from incurring demurrage on such vessels.

There are certainly logistic problems with the supply chain of domestic gas. The government must quickly resolve these problems. There must be an arrangement for the use of the terminals whether private or government owned in a seamless manner. We do not call for the subsidization of the use of private terminals. Rather, we call on the government to have a clear arrangement that would not require vessels to arrive at the PPMC jetty before being diverted to a private terminal.  Secondly, we call on the government to intervene in the state of the jetties.  Some of them are over 40 years old and therefore not in a usable state.  This is a major source of the problem.  The government has to address this challenge in the shortest possible time.

In the case of kerosene, the price hike is the result of shortage of supply. The kerosene market had been deregulated but only a few independent marketers have entered the market. Supply is largely limited to what is imported by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Therefore, prices have always been higher than the official price announced by the Petroleum Product Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPRA).  We are of the view that Nigerians should move from kerosene to the use of LPG, which is cleaner, cost-effective and cheaper globally. But in the interim, efforts must be made to ensure sufficient supply until people are able to move to domestic gas when it really becomes cheap and available in the country.

We are of the view that the main reason for the current challenges is the unfortunate fact that these products are imported. Much of the products in the Nigerian market for domestic gas is imported from neighbouring Republic of Benin.  Just as most of Nigeria’s domestic petroleum production is refined outside the country, so too is its LPG requirements. Nigeria produces about four million tonnes of LPG a year but practically all of it is exported. The inability to refine sufficient quantity of these products for domestic use has to be addressed in the shortest time possible. The policy of the Federal Government to deepen the use of cooking gas will fail when there is scarcity of the product or the price soars beyond the purchasing power of the masses.

Nigeria’s effort at reforestation is coming to grief with increasing resort to the use of dirty fuel energy sources like firewood and charcoal to meet cooking needs by the masses.  There is a need to reinvigorate the afforestation drive by the government. There must be concerted efforts to ensure that two trees are planted for everyone that is lost to firewood and charcoal.

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