Heidelberg University

Producing Charcoal in the Sub-Saharan Drylands:
The Contested Fuelscape of Central Pokot, Kenya

Principal Investigator / Recipient of grant:

Project Group:
Duration: 2017 - 2018
Funding: German Research Foundation (DFG)
Project number: 329563614

Charcoal ranks amongst the most commercialized but least regulated commodities in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, despite its prevalence as an energy source for cooking, heating and small-scale industrial activities, the localized environmental and livelihood impacts of charcoal production are poorly understood so far. This research deficit is amplified by widespread negative attitudes towards charcoal production, which has often been described as a major cause of deforestation or as an activity that entraps people in a poverty-degradation spiral. However, the charcoal-degradation nexus is apparently more complicated, not least because some studies indicate that the biomass extraction from already degraded woodlands can be sustainable under efficient management regimes. The biophysical properties and environmental dynamics within charcoal producing areas are thus not predefined but they emerge and gain meaning through the (representational) practices and negotiations between a whole range of different actors. Our study, therefore, approaches the charcoal producing sector as a fuelscape or contested energy landscape with complex material and discursive dimensions. By adopting a methodological approach that integrates remote sensing techniques with empirically based social scientific analyses across multiple spatial and temporal scales, we intend to establish a better understanding of the shifting couplings of human and environmental processes through which fuelscapes are perpetually (trans-)formed. Our research will critically enhance current efforts to monitor prevailing degradation activities in the Sub-Saharan drylands and herewith push charcoal-related policy and research in new directions.