India: Making Charcoal from Prosopis Juliflora

Tom Miles

India: Making Charcoal from Prosopis Juliflora
N. Sai Bhaskar Reddy, India April 30, 2007
[img_assist|nid=320|title=Prosopis Juliflora Stacked for Charcoal Making|desc=|link=node|align=center|width=480|height=210]

I had been following terrapreta discussions, which are very interesting.

Regarding whether to make charcoal or not I would like to share an interesting story (link : of communities decision and the circumstances from a remote village called Kothur (meaning new village) located in the semi-arid environment of the interior peninsular India. This village in the past was well known for paddy cultivation, there used to be abundant water available year round and in the milieu of the village and hence attracted the cranes and egrets. Especially during and after the rainy season all the trees in the village were occupied by the birds and their nests. Then this village was popularly called as 'Kongala Kothur' or Kothur with cranes. People also strongly believed that if the cranes have not appeared, there will be less rainfall in that year.

Due to climate change and variability the rainfall has come down from over 800mm to less than 600 mm in the last 50 years. As a result the traditional paddy cultivation area has come down, and people started more and more dependant on the meager groundwater resources. The present scenario is unimaginable and contrasting; most of the paddy growing fields are left fallow and the soils have turned saline / alkaline. In these soils Prosopis Juliflora (a native thorny arid plant species / is growing abundantly. This an exotic species is seen in this parts only since past 30 years. Now we can see a sea of Prosopis Juliflore covering more than 30% of the open and cultivable fallows.

This present situation is the result of Climate Change and Human interventions. In the summer of year 2005 when I first visited this village, I could see heaps of Prosopis Juliflora was being converted into Charcoal. The people from a far of coastal area having seen the abundant Prosopis in this area have migrated to this area and started making Charcoal with the support of local people. Soon local people have also learnt the art of charcoal making and are able to cope with the recurring drought conditions prevailing in this area. This adaptation method could arrest migration of people to some extant, other wise this District is well known for migration of people to far of places.

I was thinking about different solutions, to help people to uproot this species and replace it with other useful species. But in the year 2006 there was drought in this part of the district. People have not sown any seeds and I was imagining mass exodus of people from this village to other parts for work. To my surprise, when I visited this village again during the peak of drought, none of the people have migrated. And they were very happy too.

The secret is that because of unprecedented demand for Prosopis Juliflora wood and charcoal from Industries and urban areas. They were earning 2 to 4 times more by cutting Prosopis Juliflora, than what they were getting from their regular agriculture work. Within no time about 30 % of the Prosopis Juliflora was harvested. I never imagined this kind of situation. Even the people who have left their lands fallow, were also benefited by getting about 10% of the total earnings.

The Climate change, energy crisis, new energy demands, and the adaptations by communities to the changes is a reality.

This is the new situation happened in this remote part only in the last 10 years. Still Charcoal making has become very popular and number of kilns are increasing every year. At last I am not sure whether to encourage community to continue to make charcoal or slowly replace Prosopis Juliflora species with other useful horticulture crops. I have presently planned the later. This case study stands as tip of an iceberg for the changes that would happen in the environment very fast, due to climate change, energy crisis and other human factors.

Please follow the link below for photographs, location of the village and the above story

Dr. N. Sai Bhaskar Reddy
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