Nice and warm summer evenings, cold beer and a spicy steak on the hot embers – isn’t that most beautiful? This film is not about the grilled food on the grill, but about the coal that makes it glow: 243,000 tons of charcoal is imported annually by Germany; The trend is ascending, because barbecue is hip in Germany. With 59,000 tons Poland is the main supplier for Germany, followed by Nigeria with 31,816 tons. In total, 40 percent of Europe’s total consumption of charcoal comes from African countries. Much of it from dubious, often illegal structures that earn a lot of money with it. The revenue from illegal charcoal exports in East, – West, and Central Africa exceed with over US $ 7.4 trillion almost the triple the value of illegal drug trafficking.
Moreover, 2.7 billion people around the world cook and heat with wood or charcoal. The related emission of climate gases is enormous. 55 percent of global wood is used as fuel per year. Especially during dry periods, local Nigerian farmers use coal production as a lifeline to feed their families. Charcoal mills roam the countryside in family groups, charring all the trees they can cut down. To produce one ton of charcoal, three gallons of wood are needed in efficient oilers. In contrast, the self-built charcoal kilns of informal Nigerian charcoal makers use up to twelve tons. The effects are enormous.
In Nigeria alone, where most of the charcoal produced is destined for exports, since the country itself mainly relies on kerosene, 36 percent of its forests were lost between 1990 and 2005. At present, twelve percent of the country is covered with forest – but coal production continues to increase. 350,000 hectares of fertile land are lost here every year. According to the UN, coal production is one of the main causes of Africa’s deforestation and, closely linked to this, the massive deterioration in soil quality and the growing risk of crop failure. Trees provide a moister microclimate, consequentially they hold water. Due to the loss of trees, the soil lacks support, and the fertile humus layer is simply washed away during heavy rainfall.
The research for this project was supported by a scholarship from the non-profit Olin gGmbH and supervised by the journalist’s association netzwerk recherche.