Some Nigerian companies are using coconut and palm shells to make charcoal briquettes in an effort to slow ongoing deforestation. Nigeria banned charcoal exports after a World Bank report showed the country lost nearly half its forest cover in just a decade.
Nothing goes to waste at the coconut processing facility started by Emeka Ugwueje 10 years ago outside Abuja.
"We began thinking inward to say, ‘OK, let our waste become the necessary energy to make fire’ and this is where we have come," Ugwueje said.
The shells burn for about an hour before turning from brown to a carbon-rich black derivative.
They are cooled, ground and later manually molded into briquettes.
But Ugwueje said there's a plan to scale up mechanically.
"We intend to introduce several types of machines. Among them is the molder, the cutter, and the drying system - a dehydrator that will bring these briquettes into a more solid form," Ugweuje said.
Major environmental repercussions
Ugwueje's company, SFK Coconut, which makes products made from coconut, is one of many in Nigeria using coconut briquettes as fuel in place of wood charcoal.
Experts said Nigeria's huge charcoal market causes major environmental repercussions. Charcoal from here is mostly exported to Europe and the United States.
A 2017 World Bank Report showed Nigeria lost nearly half of its forest cover between 2007 and 2017 as a result of the charcoal trade. The report also predicted Nigeria’s forests could be completely gone by 2047.
Political will is missing
Conservationist David Michael Terungwa, executive director of the Global Initiative for Food Security and Ecosystem Preservation, said a lack of compliance with Nigeria’s charcoal export ban is to blame for continued deforestation. He also cites a lack of political will to address the problem.
“I think the issue is compliance and compliance monitoring, and enforcement by the regulatory agency," Terungwa said.
He was referring to Nigeria’s National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency.
For years, Nigerian authorities have been encouraging tree planting to replace decimated forests.
But experts say in the absence of adequate monitoring systems, Nigerians must make a conscious effort to use other alternatives to tree-derived charcoal for fuel.