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TOGO: Trees Disappearing, Even as Some Believe the Supply “Will Never End”

Noël Kokou Tadegnon

LOME, Jun 22 2007 (IPS) - In the southern Togolese village of Yoto Kopé, Akoua Amouzouvi and several other women emerge from the bush with bowls of charcoal balanced on their heads – hands and faces smeared with black dust.

They have been burning trees to make charcoal for sale. “It’s our daily activity,” says Amouzouvi.

With government figures indicating that more than 80 percent of the population is dependent on wood to meet domestic energy needs, the women – and others throughout Togo – have no shortage of clients.

But, the West African country’s forests do not appear able to sustain this brisk trade.

According to the most recent official statistics IPS was able to obtain, dense forest covered an estimated 449,000 hectares in 1970, but just 140,000 hectares in 1990. It is estimated that up to 10 kilogrammes of wood are needed to obtain one kilogramme of charcoal.

Authorities maintain that efforts are being made to halt the destruction of forests: certain wooded areas have been declared protected, and reforestation is underway.

Jun. 1 was proclaimed the national ‘Day of the Tree’ in 1977 to encourage people to plant trees, while in 1990 a Forest Development Programme was launched. This initiative includes the promotion of community and school plantations aimed at supplying people with wood for energy purposes, and with timber.

Environment and Forest Resources Minister Issifou Okoulou-Kantchati also encourages each Togolese to maintain a private wooded area, or at least plant a seedling every year.

In addition, the export and re-export of charcoal from Togo has been banned since September 2005. Those who contravene the ban are fined triple the value of their merchandise.

Yet it seems clear that these initiatives have yet to make an impression on Amouzouvi and her colleagues, who appear unaware that their work of charcoal production could be the prelude to desertification. Loss of tree cover paves the way for land degradation.

“There are a lot of trees, and this will never end,” Amouzouvi says. “When it finishes on this side here, we just move forward a bit to find…trees on the other side…These trees date from the time of our great-grandparents.”

Kouami Kokou, a lecturer at the University of Lomé – the capital – and a consultant at the International Tropical Timber Organisation, believes the solution to this problem lies in the promotion of alternative energy sources.

The best alternative would be gas, he says; but, there has been scant progress in this regard.

“The number of people who use gas in Togo is too low at present,” Kokou notes. Barely 20 percent of citizens have turned to gas for their domestic energy needs.

He has therefore called on government to put greater effort into subsidising gas, and to make it more available to communities.

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