Green Charcoal around Virunga Undermines Illegal Trade, Boosts Park Protection

Posted on August, 18 2015

By Sinziana Demian, WWF Central Africa

In a milestone for conservation around Virunga National Park in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a large quantity of sustainable charcoal is now available on the market in Goma, the most important city in the vicinity of the park.

Last week, two trucks offloaded here over 16 tons of charcoal from reforested wood around Virunga, through a WWF-run project called EcoMakala.

“This is a remarkable moment for conservation in this embattled area,” said Marc Languy, WWF’s Director in Central Africa. “Sustainable charcoal is key to ensuring that the people of Goma and its surroundings have access to an energy source that does not infringe on the resources of this precious park.”

Charcoal – makala in the local Swahili language - is obtained from wood and is the main source of fuel used in Eastern DRC. According to a recent study*, 56% of the charcoal consumed in Goma is illegally sourced inside Virunga, causing accelerated deforestation.

“Enabling the production of sustainable charcoal around the park crucially complements law enforcements efforts inside the park,” said Languy. “It equally contributes to peace, as it helps cut funding for the armed groups who have long benefitted from the illegal charcoal trade originating inside Virunga,” he added.

With well over one million inhabitants, Goma alone consumes above 105,000 tons of charcoal every year, at a total cost of about US$55.9 million.

To mitigate the deforestation pressures on Virunga, which is Africa’s most biodiverse park, WWF has been leading reforestation projects for over 25 years. To date, more than 21 million trees have been planted around the park. The sustainable charcoal delivered last week is the direct result of EcoMakala, a project co-funded by the EU, WWF, and other donors. **  

Since its inception eight years ago, EcoMakala has worked with over 7,000 local farmers and has seen more than 9,000 ha reforested. Estimates show that in the next 3-5 years these plantations will have the capacity to supply up to 20% of the annual charcoal Goma needs.

EcoMakala also provides an alternative source of income for producers.

“Planting trees guarantees a better future for my family. Through selling charcoal I can cover school and medical fees, buy better clothes and food, and ensure dowry for the marriage of my children,” said Jonathan Muhindo Sikwaya, a member of COOPAL cooperative. “Planting trees also helps protect the soil and purifies the air we breathe.”


EcoMakala gives landowners financial and technical support to establish and manage woodlots, which average in size from 1-2 ha. The farmer-planters’ associations receive training in how to set up nurseries, produce seedlings, prepare and plant the fields. They can choose what trees to grow, provided the species has the potential to produce charcoal. Most commonly these include Eucalypts, Black Wattle and Silky Oak.

EcoMakala also trains planters in more efficient charcoal-making (carbonization) techniques, while still using semi-traditional kilns -- stacks of wood covered by earth. Careful stacking procedures and the use of chimneys and vents to regulate air flow means that the same quantity of charcoal can be obtained with less than half the wood traditionally used.   

The project also develops farmer planters’ cooperatives in order to facilitate access to markets and increase profitability.

There are also impediments, especially related to the taxation regime, as engr. Hicham Daoudi, EcoMakala Project Manager, explained:

“Sustainable charcoal is currently taxed just like illegal charcoal. We appeal to the provincial authorities to redress this situation. Lower tax and further incentives for EcoMakala would allow sustainable charcoal producers to better position themselves on the market and would also bring charcoal prices down, which would directly benefit consumers.”

In parallel, WWF is supporting local women’s associations to produce and sell fuel-efficient stoves, which reduce household charcoal consumption by up to 50%.


A major forestry inventory is currently underway to measure the productivity of the plantations as well as the carbon stock. This is an essential component of EcoMakala, which is designed as a REDD+ project, with detailed measurements of carbon stocks as well as raising awareness of the value of forests and the ecological services they perform.

By the end of 2015, EcoMakala will exceed 10,000 reforested ha. Meanwhile, hundreds of tons of charcoal will be produced, while 110 tons are already awaiting delivery.

The success of the project now attracts attention elsewhere in the DRC. The neighboring South Kivu Province, for example, has already expressed interest to replicate it.
* ONFI (The International Department of Office National des Forêts, France), 2015
First trucks carrying eco makala arrive in Goma
EcoMakala plantation
© Hicham Daoudi/WWF DRC
Fuel efficient stoves can reduce charcoal consumption by up to 50%
© Sinziana Maria Demian/WWF Central Africa