In the rural communities of Ghana’s Western region, bamboo trees are often looked at as just another plant growing in backyards. But at the Ankobra Beach Resort, bamboo trees offer much more. When made into charcoal, the bamboo provides a solution for developing sustainable agricultural practices, supporting successful farming and fishing businesses and combatting deforestation.
In Ghana, about 70% of urban households use charcoal as a biofuel. Because of the high demand, Ghana produces almost 2 million tons of charcoal each year with the majority made from cutting down tree forests in its more rural areas. This makes charcoal production one of the main causes of deforestation and pollution in the country.
The Ankobra Beach Resort’s managers, Claus and his wife Ines Egger, said they wanted to address this problem by setting up a low-cost kiln in the heart of their resort. At the beginning of every week, local agriculturalists exchange bamboo stock for money at the resort’s charcoal production site.
Every Monday to Friday, Mr. Egger supervises the 8 hour-long process of pyrolysis that turns the bamboo into charcoal. With only a handful of helpers, Egger begins the process by heating pieces of wood washed up on the beach, in a small section of the kiln.
The heat generated travels into the kiln’s main body where the bamboo is placed for burning. Egger and his team carefully monitor the temperature with multiple thermometers on the kiln’s chimneys, ensuring a minimum temperature of 932 °F is reached.
The kiln has six chimneys, three in front and three in back. The front set allows smoke to escape while those in the back release steam. A welded box, wrapped with cool towels is placed on top of one of the back chimneys to collect steam. Through condensation, bamboo vinegar is made which also functions as a natural pesticide.
When the charcoal is ready, it is lifted from the kiln with a hook block, left to cool and then later bagged for distribution.
6 ways the Eggers say bamboo charcoal production is transforming communities in Ghana’s Western region
“I believe anyone can build and run their own bamboo kiln with just the right amount of knowledge about it.” – Claus Egger, Manager Ankobra Beach Resort
- Bamboo is fast growing, renewable and widespread
Under the right circumstances, bamboo trees can grow as much as two feet in a single day.
“In Ghana you are blessed. You had more than a million hectares of bamboo sometime ago. But most of it has been destroyed. You have 300,000 hectares of bamboo left. That’s enough to work with if farmers are smart about the way they harvest and replant the trees. And because bamboo grows quickly, they do not have too wait too long like they would if they were working in rubber or palm nut plantations.”
- It’s good for the environment
Bamboo trees are 30 percent more efficient at producing oxygen than timber trees and when burned for charcoal, there are very little wood gas emissions as compared to that produced by timber burned in a traditional earth kiln. Aside from this, Mr. Egger said the smart harvesting of bamboo means Ghanaians can preserve their forests and use their timber trees only when necessary,
“Here in Ghana, you tend to use timber for everything. It’s killing the forests and depreciating the value of what you have. I think, why not use bamboo since it’s renewable. Use it to make your furniture, flooring, plywood and anything else you want. A lot of what we have here at the resort is made of bamboo by local artisans. That way we are all working to save the environment.”
- Bamboo charcoal makes for a better cooking experience
Mr. Egger said bamboo charcoal is certainly a cleaner cooking alternative. But often times, their product is met with skepticism. Because of this, the Eggers work very closely with the Axim Youth Organization, who distribute the charcoal in the communities along the coastline and help the people understand its benefits,
“A lot of people don’t believe us when we tell them how efficient the bamboo charcoal is. So we have been handing out samples to the women in the villages and when they use it, they see that it is actually better than what they are using now. They say the temperature is much higher, there’s no smoke, it doesn’t smell bad and they use less charcoal than they would normally use.”
- Famers can take their businesses to the next level
Each 3 foot by 3 foot bamboo stock, used in the production of charcoal goes for 30 GHS. Mr. Egger said based on the number of hectares of bamboo trees in Ghana, the nation’s farmers can tap into a 250 million GHS business quite easily.
Bamboo vinegar is a by-product of the charcoal making process, but it has very promising implications on Ghana’s organic farming scene,
“We are running a pilot program in this area, in partnership with the Ministry of Food & Agriculture where cocoa farmers are using the bamboo vinegar for organic farming, to treat and protect their crops. This is great because big chocolate companies like Cadbury are looking for organic cocoa beans. So when the natural product is exported, the farmers would make three or four times more what they are making now and they don’t even have to spend money buying the artificial pesticides. We have also given some women in the villages some samples of the vinegar to treat their soils. Since using it, they have been able to grow vegetables like cucumber which they weren’t able to grow before.”
- Less illegal mining and the return of fishermen
25,000 people rely on fishing as a source of income in Ankobra and Axim. But fishermen are at risk of losing their jobs as more and more illegal mining moves into the area, destroying the natural habitat of the fish in the process. Mr. Egger said the charcoal production business will provide secure employment opportunities for miners, helping to restore the natural habitat of the fish and enable fishermen to get back to sea,
“We are keen to get our fish back here. The galamsey [illegal] miners are messing up the habitat of the fish near the Ankobra river. The fish can’t lay their eggs and we are seeing a real decline in the saltwater fish here which means bad business for fishermen. So these miners are saying to me, if you give me another source of income then I’ll stop digging for gold.”
- Bamboo kilns are easy to replicate
Looking ahead, Mr. Egger said there should be bamboo kilns in each country along the coast of West Africa. To promote the practice in Ghana, the Eggers have set up a research and training program for local farmers, agriculture students and anyone interested in learning about the potentially high-impact and eco-friendly business.