Power of the informal: smallholder charcoal production in Mozambique
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Jones, Daniel Edward
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The charcoal market in Africa is an informal economy. This enables millions of people to earn a living producing, selling and trading charcoal, due to low barriers to market entry. However, research and policy on charcoal has long focused on the downsides of informality. Informal charcoal production is commonly linked to criminality, an undermining of social cohesion, poor working conditions and most of all, forest loss. These negative perspectives continue to shape our approaches to charcoal markets, despite a recent reframing of charcoal as a potential sustainable development opportunity. This thesis aims to provide an alternative perspective. I argue that by focusing on the negative aspects of charcoal production, in particular forest loss, we end up misdiagnosing the problems and excluding stakeholders. The focus on forest loss has obscured research on the role of charcoal in rural livelihoods and has led to research that is primarily interested in large-scale production providing charcoal to major urban areas. This means small-scale charcoal production has been comparatively neglected in academic research, despite its importance for rural livelihoods and overall charcoal supply. Through three empirical chapters, I provide perspectives on small-scale charcoal production, its role in rural livelihoods and some of the factors that shape this role. I strive to provide novel analytical insights by moving away from questions of charcoal’s environmental impact and towards an approach that situates charcoal within the politics of rural livelihoods. I explore these ideas using case studies from Mozambique and a mixed methods approach. The results show small-scale charcoal production is a flexible form of income, primarily used as a livelihood diversification strategy. Furthermore, charcoal production is closely linked to the agricultural practices of producers. This means that conventional theoretical approaches to forest loss that treat charcoal production as distinct from agricultural practice may misinterpret the role of charcoal production in deforestation and forest degradation. I then move on to look at approaches to charcoal market formalisation in Mozambique. The results show that the regulations, whilst shaped by a variety of processes, concentrate on governing charcoal as an environmental problem. Changes to forest management requirements within the regulations have done little to improve sustainability as they are incapable of reaching out to small producers, in part due to inherent barriers within the formalisation process - stringent forest management plans and a conceptualisation of charcoal as a full-time, professional livelihood. The picture of charcoal production that emerges from the thesis is one of a flexible cash-income generating strategy, complicated by the politics of forest loss and livelihoods at local and national levels. The results show that charcoal plays a vital role in rural economies, not only in spite of its informality, but because of it. I argue throughout the thesis that small-scale charcoal production should be seen as a livelihood strategy to be nurtured rather than neglected and marginalised. The research questions whether the formalisation and modernisation of charcoal markets can engage small producers and concludes that in order to allow charcoal livelihoods to flourish and to improve sustainability, interventions need to work with, and for, charcoal as an informal economy.