Cutting down trees for charcoal continues to be a serious problem throughout Africa. In countries such as Mozambique, the need for charcoal as a source of fuel needed for cooking is leading to major deforestation and environmental degradation. As the demand is also increasing, illegal logging is in protected areas is a growing concern. In the video above, the Banhine National Park team embarks on a joint operation to identify areas where illegal logging is taking place within the conservation area.

In vast landscapes such as the national parks in Mozambique, pilots like Wouter Steyn play a major role in helping to identify illegal charcoaling camps from the air. After a camp has been identified, the pilots will radio in the coordinates to the team on the ground, who will then investigate the site.

Managed by the National Administration for Conservation Areas (ANAC) in partnership with Peace Parks Foundation, this 700 000 hectare national park situated in central southern Mozambique is an important component of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area. Its position remains critical to re-establishing a wildlife corridor that flows from the Kruger National Park to Limpopo National Park, through Banhine and all the way up to Zinave National Park. Data collected from collared animals indicate that this ancient migration route is still being used by migrating wildlife such as elephant and lion.

So, not only is Banhine important for the wildlife in the area, but its unique landscape forms beautiful crystal-clear lagoons during the wet season, which plays a vital role in the passage of migratory birds. To support the wildlife who depend on this area, it is important to remove all threats to this restoration process which include halting illegal logging and charcoal operations.

Illegal charcoaling refers to the felling of trees and woodlands in protected areas. Many of the species harvested for charcoaling are indigenous to the area, and the practice stands to be one of the biggest contributors to deforestation and desertification throughout Africa today. To minimise the practice and subsequent ecological impacts, governments regulate charcoal production through the implementation of permits. However, as can be seen from the video, it remains a challenge to monitor exactly how much charcoal is coming out of specific areas because trucks that have extra space will collect large bags filled with charcoal from rural villages along their route to the big cities and hide it amongst their other cargo. With a permit, charcoaling is allowed in specific areas, however, it is illegal in all conservation areas.

The actual process of creating charcoal is relatively easy. After the trees have been cut down, they undergo what is known as an ‘‘earth kiln’’ process, whereby the large logs and hardwood are placed in a pile and set alight. The wood is then covered with sand ensuring that oxygen cannot get in as this results in a very slow burn for several days.

From there, the charcoal goes on to be distributed and sold around the country, mainly to be used for household tasks such as cooking and heating water. Both the production and use of charcoal inside homes which is common in these areas, pose serious health risks to the communities due to smoke inhalation that contains high levels of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and soot.

Illegal logging has a devastating impact on the remaining forests in protected areas such as Banhine National Park, affecting the wildlife that are dependent on these trees for food, shelter, nesting and reproduction sites, and ultimately destroying the ecosystem. Unfortunately, this method has been used in countries across Africa for many years because provides an income where employment opportunities are slim to none. Thankfully, Peace Parks Foundation and partners have been hard at work creating an alternative solution to support these communities and the environment that they live in, which you can find out more about that here.