Monday, April 30, 2007

Charcoal Making

This is the story of a remote village called Kothur (meaning new village) located in the semi-arid environment of the interior peninsular India. This village in the past was well known for paddy cultivation, there used to be abundant water available year round and in the milieu of the village and hence attracted the cranes and egrets. Especially during and after the rainy season all the trees in the village were occupied by the birds and their nests. Then this village was popularly called as ‘Kongala Kothur’ or Kothur with cranes. People also strongly believed that if the cranes have not appeared, there will be less rainfall in that year.

Due to climate change and variability the rainfall has come down from over 800mm to less than 600 mm in the last 50 years. As a result the traditional paddy cultivation area has come down, and people started more and more dependant on the meager groundwater resources. The present scenario is unimaginable and contrasting; most of the paddy growing fields are left fallow and the soils have turned saline / alkaline. In these soils Prosopis Juliflora (a native thorny arid plant species / is growing abundantly. This an exotic species is seen in this parts only since past 30 years. Now we can see a sea of Prosopis Juliflore covering more than 30% of the open and cultivable fallows.

This present situation is the result of Climate Change and Human interventions. In the summer of year 2005 when I first visited this village, I could see heaps of Prosopis Juliflora was being converted into Charcoal. The people from a far of coastal area having seen the abundant Prosopis in this area have migrated to this area and started making Charcoal with the support of local people. Soon local people have also learnt the art of charcoal making and are able to cope with the recurring drought conditions prevailing in this area. This adaptation method could arrest migration of people to some extant, other wise this District is well known for migration of people to far of places.

I was thinking about different solutions, to help people to uproot this species and replace it with other useful species. But in the year 2006 there was drought in this part of the district. People have not sown any seeds and I was imagining mass exodus of people from this village to other parts for work. To my surprise, when I visited this village again during the peak of drought, none of the people have migrated. And they were very happy too.

The secret is that because of unprecedented demand for Prosopis Juliflora wood and charcoal from Industries and urban areas. They were earning 2 to 4 times more by cutting Prosopis Juliflora, than what they were getting from their regular agriculture work. Within no time about 30 % of the Prosopis Juliflora was harvested. I never imagined this kind of situation. Even the people who have left their lands fallow, were also benefited by getting about 10% of the total earnings.

The Climate change, energy crisis, new energy demands, and the adaptations by communities to the changes is a reality.

This is the new situation happened in this remote part only in the last 10 years. Still Charcoal making has become very popular and number of kilns are increasing every year. At last I am not sure whether to encourage community to continue to make charcoal or slowly replace Prosopis Juliflora species with other useful horticulture crops. I have presently planned the later. This case study stands as tip of an iceberg for the changes that would happen in the environment very fast, due to climate change, energy crisis and other human factors.


Yuvasenthil said...

Prosopis have to replaced by some other species which of food crops. Prosopis is a tree weed for sometime, now it is creating an economic and social weed. Prosopis will turn semi arid region in to arid regions if it is not uprooted.

Daniel said...

This plant is an introduced headache; best way to get rid of it is to make charcoal out of it. And since it is there why not take advantage; its tender seeds make lovely vegetable. Taste it and you will like it!

Shane said...

Interesting situation as well as a controversial issue. The fact that prosopis is invasive might be off set by its ability to survive in increasingly saline soils and provide a saleable product (charcoal) where other plants either perish or produce nothing of value. Ah but it is a complicated world we live in eh?

sospetera said...

its very interesting i was just reserching on preparation of charcoal and i saw this biography of this remote village on charcoal
prosopia is very useful in this village in economical issues and getting rid of it its not the best idea that this people will accept it is complicated

zakirqadir said...

I think a good compromise is to just encourage the farmers to grow enough for their own needs & leave what would otherwise have been land that is planted with cash crops to be taken over by the more profitable (& also far more easier & cheaper) charcoal production exercise. The farmers priorities in my opinion should be centred around 2 points, namely a) food security for themselves & their families & b) as optimal a cash flow that can be SUSTAINABLY obtained from their land - and what can be more sustainable than harvesting a perrenial crop (the charcoal giving trees) that give so much, yet ask for such little (relative to a cash crop like paddy farming) labour?

Dr. Sylvia Mitchell said...

My two cents is to encourage the farmers to rotate their kilns and leave a little of the charcoal and work it into the soil. In time, the soil will get better and they will be able to plant their crops. Leave some areas for the Prosopis to grow.

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Alisha Palakkal said...

Could ou elaborate on the environmental damage caused in making Charcoal?. Can alternative methods be used to obtain energy with less environmental damage

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