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Gas Price Hike: Deforestation looms as demand for charcoal soars

By Daniel Anazia
18 September 2021   |   4:12 am
Although the Federal Government has declared 2021 to 2030 a decade of gas, with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) setting up a N250 billion fund to expand the usage of the product across the country...

Charcoal lump

Although the Federal Government has declared 2021 to 2030 a decade of gas, with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) setting up a N250 billion fund to expand the usage of the product across the country, the cost of cooking gas is fast rising beyond the reach of the common man.

In fact, findings by The Guardian showed that households and restaurants that had bid goodbye to firewood and charcoal usage have begun to embrace them again. The implication is that more trees might the felled in the coming months and years if the situation is not addressed. The development may worsen the deforestation challenges in the country, which is the root cause of the clashes between farmers and herders who are migrating from deforested parts of the country to places that still have pasture for their animals.

Since early December 2020, the price of cooking gas has been on a steady rise and has so far exceeded 100 per cent.

The Guardian checks in Lagos metropolis showed that a kilogram (kg) of cooking gas now sells for between N550 and N600, while a 12.5kg cylinder, which sold for N4, 800 in July now sells for between N6,500 and N6,800 at gas stations. Roadside retailers sell the same volume for between N7,000 and N7,200.

Recently, the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mallam Mele Kyari, attributed the hike in the price of the product to inadequate supply.

Kyari, who spoke during a working visit to the headquarters of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) in Abuja, declared that the supply mechanism for the product in the country had become weak.

“Today, this country is under-supplied with gas. I can tell you that we are having difficulty feeding our network across the country with gas every day; it is a trouble to deliver gas. Once your supply is weak, it will affect pricing.

“That is why we are collaborating extensively to make sure that we are able to extract LPG from our gas resources so that it is made available to the market. Once supply becomes high, definitely, the price will be impacted,” he said.

While the wait for improved supply continues, some Lagos residents and restaurateurs, who spoke with The Guardian, said that with kerosene also almost out of their reach, they had resorted to charcoal and firewood, which they described as the cheapest alternatives.

A woman who runs Ore-Ofe Canteen, an amala cafeteria in Isuti-Egan, Igando-Ikotun Local Council Development Area (LCDA), who identified herself simply as Mrs. Arowosafe, said: “We use both gas and charcoal but gas is very expensive now. Kerosene is also expensive. We have no choice because we must carry on with our business.

“What we do is that we alternate the usage. For instance, when we want to cook something that will take a longer time like beans, which we use to make gbegiri, we use charcoal. Government should come to the aid of the masses by subsidising the prices of cooking gas, kerosene and even petrol because we also use it to power our generator when there is no electricity supply. The agonies are too much.”

Corroborating Arowosafe, another woman, Esther, who runs Doyin’s Place on Isuti Road, said: “We use both gas and charcoal, but unlike charcoal, gas seems to cook faster. Though gas is expensive now, we have no choice because we can’t tell our customers that we couldn’t operate due to hike in gas price.

“The hike in price is affecting the business. Customers now complain about the quantity of food we serve because of the high cost of foodstuff and cooking gas. Even though we don’t make profit, we must ‘maintain’ to remain in business.”

Mrs. Yemisi, who manages Alubarika Food Canteen on Mafoluku Road, Mafoluku, Oshodi, said she used both gas and charcoal, depending on what she’s cooking.

“We use gas and charcoal but more of charcoal; it is cheaper and cooks very fast. But even charcoal is also becoming too expensive. Before now, we bought a nylon pack for N100, but it has increased to N200. On daily basis, we use N500 worth of charcoal and it is barely enough for everything we need to cook. This is all that remains from what we bought today,” she said, pointing to some pieces of charcoal in a nylon bag beside her.

Most drinking spots visited by The Guardian also favoured the use of charcoal for cooking the delicacies they usually serve with drinks.

Ada Ide, who runs a beer joint on Akesan Road, Igando, stated that embracing the use of charcoal was the best decision she could take at this time. She lamented that charcoal has become expensive, saying N1, 200 worth of the product with which she used to cook throughout a week is no longer sufficient.

“It seems to burn faster these days and also there is visible reduction in size. Because of this, we now go to the market to buy it by ourselves. But it is still cheaper compared to gas or kerosene,” Ide said.

Mrs. Kajogbola, who operates a food canteen on Joseph Adegboye Street, said she could not afford to refill her gas cylinder because she still owed the dealer who supplied the product to her the last time. “I had no choice than to resort to cooking with charcoal,” she said.

Further findings showed that as a result of the resort to charcoal for cooking, the price has risen from N2, 600 to N3,200 per bag. A charcoal dealer, who identified herself as Madam Atinuke, confirmed this.

“Charcoal is very expensive now, and it’s not even available. The state of insecurity is affecting the supply. The people that supply us are no longer coming as usual. As you know, bandits have taken over the bushes in the rural areas where charcoal is being sourced,” she said.

For Mrs Tawakalitu, who sells charcoal in Mafoluku, Oshodi, the scarcity of the product is caused by “seasonal factors.”

“This is not the season for charcoal, which is the reason it is scarce and expensive. Before now, we sold a bag for N3,000 but now it sells for N3,200 and N3,300.”

Last year, the Federal Government revealed that the CBN would provide N250 billion-intervention facility for the national gas expansion programme aimed at making Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) the fuel of choice for transportation and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) for domestic cooking, captive power and small industrial complexes. But the policy seems to be working on the reverse gear, with environmentalists expressing concerns that the development might induce wanton destruction of the forests.

A former Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos and an environmentalist, Prof. Babajide Alo, told The Guardian that the hike in price of domestic gas did not augur well for the country, especially with the environment.

“There are three indirect impact of this hike in gas price vis-a-viz health implication as a result of incomplete combustion. The smoke from the fuel wood injures peoples’ health. The trees are the zinc for green house gases; once they are removed, the environment is exposed to harsh climate conditions. There is abundance evidence to that effect.

“To mitigate these effects, government should subsidise the price of domestic gas and make it more affordable for the people. Also, we need to plant more trees rather than cut them.”

Also, the Acting Head of Department of Forestry and Wildlife Management, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Dr. Oladapo Olukoya, while affirming the intensity of charcoal use and forest depletion, stated that whatsoever affects the trees affect the animals and the entire ecosystem.

According to him, in some parts of the country, some people believe that their foods taste better when they cook with charcoal instead of kerosene or gas stoves.

Olukoya explained that “when wood is burnt and the natural carbon dioxide and oxygen interchange is disrupted, it destroys the ozone layer, and this results in increased heat, increase in evaporation, rise in sea level and consequently flooding.”

On how to remedy the situation, Olukoya canvassed reorienting the people to engage in reforestation. “Let’s encourage more people to plant trees. Though they are planting, the rate at which they do it is not the same with the rate at which they cut the trees,” he said.

He argued that if people could be educated to do massive reforestation, with primary and secondary schools students coopted into the project via practical curriculum, the culture of replenishing the fallen trees could be re-cultivated.

The Executive Director of the National Centre for Genetic Resource and Biotechnology (NACGRAB), Dr Sunday Aladele, had told The Guardian in an earlier report that “charcoal production is depleting the forest,” urging the government has to wake up and checkmate the trend. “We are killing the future of the country. Necessary legal enforcement must be done by the government,” he said.

Aladele called on the government to be proactive enough to stem the trend of tree felling by using law enforcement agencies to clamp down on illegal forest exploration.

He warned that though illegal charcoal production could provide a temporary relief for a few beneficiaries, the long-term effect would linger for generations.

It could be recalled that in September 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change, where he committed Nigeria to reducing “Green House Gas Emissions unconditionally by 20 per cent and conditionally by 45 per cent” in line with Nigeria’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).”

Buhari had stated that Nigeria’s commitment to the Paris Agreement was articulated through its NDCs “that strive to build a climate resilient society across the diverse terrain of Nigeria.”

He had also disclosed that Nigeria had instituted an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change to govern implementation of the country’s NDCs, thereby ensuring a strong cross-sectoral approach, coherence and synergy for Climate Action.

With Nigerians turning to charcoal and firewood due to unaffordability of cooking gas, the country’s implementation of the agreement has no doubt been hampered. There is need for rejuvenation.