Charcoal in West Africa
Mountains of charcoal confiscated from illegal charcoal laborers in Eastern Senegal
Issues and numbers in the economically-important charcaol industry
LINK TO TABLES AND DETAILS ON
CONVERSION FACTORS AND
STATISTICS

             
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ASSOCIATED WITH CHARCOAL VOLUMES,
GROWTH, TRANSPORT, AND ECONOMICS IN
WEST AFRICA
A unit of volume used to describe charcoal for
transport is a "quintaux".  
A quintaux  is supposed to equal
100 kg of charcoal; it traditionally was accounted as the
volume to fill two 50-kg grain bags for the convenience of
transporters, foresters, and laborers.  (See
link to document
with table of conversions.)  Changing the real volume in the
sacks by over-stuffing them and attaching height extensions
allows for favors to be granted to actors in the market chain,
or makes the sacks more attractive to potential buyers.
In general, it is more efficient to transport
lighter-weight charcoal over long distances than green
or dry firewood.
With a 28% thermal energy, the value of
charcoal equals the price of its transport by an old inefficient
truck at a distance of 1000 km (Keita, J.D. document).  Green
wood contains 280 Kcal of useable energy per kg, and
charcoal contains 420 Kcal.
SOME FACTS ABOUT CHARCOAL
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Traditional charcoal production involves stacking
and burning wood (almost 30 tonnes of green
wood) in huge piles ("kilns") that produce a
truckload at a time (300 sacks or 150 quintaux).  
In
principle, an improved-efficiency "Casamance kiln" (which
requires wood to be stacked in a precise configuration
and uses a welded-barrel chimney that produces
creosote as a marketable by-product) can almost double
the usable energy available in the same volume of wood.
Dakar, with its several millions in population and a
competing bottled gas market for cooking, required
300,000 tonnes of charcoal in 2005.   
This was the
equivalent of 3 million quintaux or about 20,000
truckloads.  In 2008, the cost of a kg of charcoal to the
home user is 125 fCFA ($0.30).  This makes the "street
value" of each tonne equal to $US 300.
Species preferred for producing charcoal are those which produce less
smoke and sparks.
In West Africa, this usually means members of the Combretum
family:
C. glutinosum, C. nigricans, C. micranthum, and Guiera senegalensis
especially.  These are usually multi-stemmed, will produce good charcoal when 10 or
more cm in diameter, and will regenerate to their original size after 6 to 20 years
depending on protection and rainfall.  In places where other species are more
abundant, other hard and dense species are used, such as
Pterocarpus.
Rings say this tree was about
14 years old when it was cut.
Within 2 years, this Combretum glutinosum has re-sprouted from
the stump in multiple stems that could be thinned to favor 3 of
them to grow faster
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