Deforestation for biomass in Africa

How deforestation for biomass affects humans and the surrounding environment. 

This article highlights how the lack of clean and sustainable energy in many African countries drives the majority of the population to rely on biomass (charcoal and wood ) for household cooking.

The dependence on biomass has increased pressure on forests which are essential for carbon sequestration, carbon sink, and act as habitat for hundreds of animal species amongst other ecological benefits. 

Piles of logs prepared for charcoal and firewood production

Energy use in Tanzania

Biomass accounts for 83% of the total energy used in Tanzania. For many years, people in Tanzania like in many other African countries have relied on biomass (charcoal) and wood as the main energy source for household cooking. This has tremendously contributed to the cutting down of forests, something that has caused health problems for users and accelerated many environmental impacts including climate change.

The use of firewood for household cooking

Deforestation in Tanzania

Between 33% to 55% of Tanzanian land is covered by forests, equivalent to around 48 million hectares. This plant cover has continued to diminish at a very high speed. Since 1990 to 2011, Tanzania has been losing an average of 0.97% of forests yearly. Amongst other factors, deforestation in Tanzania is driven by population growth and human activities such as over-dependence on biomass for cooking energy, unsustainable agricultural practices, livestock keeping, mining, and construction.

Impacts of Deforestation

Effects of deforestation include but are not limited to the loss of soil fertility and loss of habitat for wild animals and other animal species.  It can also create invasive species, animals invading people’s homes and causing property damage, increasing conflicts between farmers and livestock keepers. Deforestation threatens the disappearance of some animal species and can impact the tourism industry. It causes the reduction of carbon sinks and carbon sequestration leading to climate change and its devastating impacts.

Forest clearing causes the loss of habitat for animals and other species

It is estimated that more than 469,420 hectares of trees are cut down each year, out of which 70 % are for cooking energy. If measures are not taken, this number may increase to 2.1 million hectares per year by 2030.

Due to the urgency needed to address deforestation in Tanzania and foster the fight against climate change, the government of Tanzania released the new National Environmental Master Plan for Strategic Interventions 2022 – 2032 (NEMPSI).

The master plan highlights all the impacted areas and proposes several intervention strategies and targets to address the challenges.

Measures to be taken

To solve the latter, it is essential to address the root causes and the driving force of deforestation.

The energy transition from biomass (Charcoal and wood) to clean alternative fuels for household cooking will significantly reduce the rate of deforestation across the country.

Besides, clean cooking has the potential to improve indoor air quality due to low emissions, something that has health benefits to families, economic benefits, and environmental benefits.