Ecomakala: more forests thanks to sustainable charcoal

Launy Dondo
16 June 2017
In the Democratic Republic of Congo the deforestation of Virunga National Park constitutes a serious threat to biodiversity. Indeed, the flourishing illegal trade in ‘makala’ (charcoal) from the park endangers natural resources whereas the local community is dependent on charcoal for its energy supply. Together with its partners, WWF-Belgium (World Wide Fund for Nature) has therefore developed the Ecomakala project whereby sustainable makala or ‘ecomakala’ is produced in the surroundings of the park.

Sustainable charcoal production and reduction of energy consumption

The Ecomakala project was set up in 2007 by the NGO WWF-Belgium with the support of the European Union. Objective: guarantee sustainable reforestation in cooperation with small plantation owners. The project provides opportunities for plantation owners to set up cooperatives for marketing ecomakala. Women are also involved in the project. For instance, some 400 women have participated in the reforestation activities. To date, as many as 10,000 hectares of land have been reforested. In the course of the next ten years, the WWF intends to add another 10,000 hectares.

In addition, the Ecomakala project intends to encourage the inhabitants of Goma to prepare their meals on more efficient woodstoves consuming 30 percent less charcoal than traditional woodstoves.

A plantation of the project Ecomakala
© WWF Belgium/Mone Van Geyt

Biodiversity conservation

Too often we lose sight of the fact that forests are the green lungs of our planet. Virunga National Park is home to no less than 627 grass species, 126 liana species and 107 tree species. The fauna is also particularly varied: 218 mammal species including the iconic mountain gorilla, 706 bird species, 109 reptile species and 78 amphibian species. Impressive volcanoes, numerous lakes as well as an exceptional geographical site all testify to an exceptionally rich natural heritage. Hence it is absolutely necessary to guarantee the conservation of this exceptional biodiversity.

Cooperation with the local population

From the start, working hand in hand with the small farmers in the region has been a priority for the WWF. The local population is a central theme in the project as it is largely dependent (for more than 90%) on charcoal for its energy supply. However, reforesting 10,000 hectares of land across the province requires an effective technical, administrative and logistical organization. Partnerships with local associations have led to the installation  of nurseries and to the guidance and training of farmers with regard to the planting of trees and plantation management.

The volunteers sitting in a circle.
© WWF Belgium/Mone Van Geyt

The local population is a central theme in the project as it is largely dependent (for more than 90%) on charcoal for its energy supply

Fair trade for charcoal

The WWF also supports the efforts to ensure fair trade in Ecomakala. As a result, today’s farmers are able to produce makala and market it in a legal, sustainable, high-quality and attractive manner appreciated by families and urban communities. The fair trade charcoal is competitive on the illegal makala market that is mainly controlled by armed groups in order to finance their activities. Moreover, the focus of the project is on transparency and effectiveness. Thus it intends to improve the way that profits are shared throughout the trade chain and to strengthen the farmers’ position in price negotiations.

Two women wearing black bags on their backs.
© WWF Belgium/Mone Van Geyt

Agroforestry and honey production

The Ecomakala project goes beyond wood supply and the production of ecomakala. It also falls within the scope of a new economy based on agroforestry combining trees and agricultural crops. This combination provides new sources of income or foodstuffs like honey. The farmer continues to produce foodstuffs this way but he can diversify his future income thanks to the trees. Within the "Makala kwa mafaa yetu" project, which is supported by the Belgian Development Cooperation, the WWF and its partner VECO (Vredeseilanden) have been planting trees in rice and coffee plantations.

The farmer continues to produce foodstuffs this way but he can diversify his future income thanks to the trees

In the coming five years, the Belgian Development Cooperation will continue to support the WWF Ecomakala project. The programme for the period 2017-2021 includes the development and management of community-based forest plantations, reduction of the need for charcoal and effective land use to promote sustainable production.



Woman working.
© WWF Belgium/Mone Van Geyt
Forests DR Congo
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