Unlawful Charcoal Activities in Somalia and Its Devastating Effects on Livelihoods: An Urgent Environmental and Socioeconomic Crisis

Unlawful Charcoal Activities In Somalia And Its Devastating Effects On Livelihoods: An Urgent Environmental And Socioeconomic Crisis

Written by Hussien Mohamed Yusuf

Published on Friday, August 11, 2023

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The issue of charcoal production and trade in Somalia has become a pressing concern due to its negative impact on the environment and socioeconomic stability. Charcoal, which is created by burning wood incompletely, has become a major source of income for various individuals and groups in the country. However, the widespread illegal production of charcoal is causing extensive damage to Somalia’s fragile ecosystems and worsening the challenges faced by pastoral and agro-pastoral communities. This article explores the problem of illegal charcoal production in Somalia, delving into its causes, participants, environmental consequences, and its profound effect on livelihoods.

Causes and Participants in Illegal Charcoal Production

The production of illegal charcoal in Somalia is driven by a complex combination of factors. Poverty, conflict, and a lack of alternative sources of income have led many individuals to turn to charcoal production. The absence of effective governance, law enforcement, and regulatory mechanisms has created an environment that allows this illicit industry to thrive. Additionally, the high demand for charcoal in urban areas and neighboring countries, such as the Gulf states, further stimulates its production and trade.

Various individuals and groups participate in the illegal charcoal trade. Local communities are often involved in the extraction and initial processing of wood, while armed groups exploit the trade for revenue generation. Domestic and international business entities are engaged in the transportation and export of charcoal, taking advantage of the lack of transparency and enforcement measures.

Environmental Consequences of Illegal Charcoal Production

The environmental consequences of illegal charcoal production are severe and far-reaching. The deforestation caused by cutting down trees for charcoal disrupts delicate ecosystems and leads to soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and the degradation of water resources. Somalia’s arid and semi-arid landscapes are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of deforestation, as trees play a crucial role in maintaining soil fertility, conserving water, and providing habitats for wildlife.

In addition, the process of charcoal production itself releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Forest degradation also reduces the ability of these ecosystems to sequester carbon, exacerbating the global climate crisis. The depletion of natural resources further weakens the resilience of pastoral and agro-pastoral communities in the face of increasing climate variability.

Impact on Pastoral and Agro-pastoral Livelihoods

Illegal charcoal production has profound impacts on the livelihoods of pastoral and agro-pastoral communities. Pastoral communities in Somalia rely on the availability of grazing land and water resources for their livestock, which are essential for their survival. The deforestation and degradation caused by illegal charcoal production directly threaten these resources, leading to reduced grazing areas and diminished water availability. This in turn triggers conflicts over scarce resources among different communities and worsens vulnerability to food insecurity.

Agro-pastoral communities, who engage in both farming and livestock rearing, also face significant challenges. Charcoal production contributes to soil degradation and reduces water retention capacities, negatively affecting agricultural productivity. The expansion of charcoal production into agricultural areas further encroaches on arable land, displacing farmers and disrupting their livelihoods. As agro-pastoralists lose access to both grazing and farming land, their ability to withstand shocks is severely compromised.

Efforts to Address Illegal Charcoal Production

Addressing the issue of illegal charcoal production in Somalia requires a comprehensive approach that combines environmental conservation with economic and social development. The following strategies are vital:

Strengthening Governance: Enhancing governance and law enforcement mechanisms is crucial to combat illegal charcoal production. This includes establishing and enforcing regulations, improving transparency in the charcoal trade, and cracking down on the involvement of armed groups.

Alternative Livelihoods: Introducing sustainable alternative sources of income can help alleviate the economic pressure that drives people to participate in charcoal production. Initiatives such as skill development, vocational training, and job creation can provide viable alternatives for communities.

Community Engagement: Involving local communities in the management and conservation of natural resources is essential. Encouraging community-led initiatives for sustainable land and resource management can help prevent deforestation and degradation.

Cross-Border Cooperation: Addressing the demand for Somali charcoal in neighboring countries requires regional cooperation. Collaborative efforts can help reduce the demand for illegal charcoal and its profitability.

Awareness and Education: Raising awareness about the environmental, social, and economic consequences of illegal charcoal production is crucial. Community education campaigns and advocacy efforts can foster a broader understanding of the issue.


The crisis of illegal charcoal production in Somalia presents a complex challenge that goes beyond environmental degradation and directly impacts the livelihoods of pastoral and agro-pastoral communities. The connection between environmental sustainability and community resilience is undeniable, and addressing this crisis requires coordinated efforts from various stakeholders. Combating illegal charcoal production involves not only conserving the environment but also empowering communities and providing sustainable alternative livelihoods. By doing so, Somalia can strive to protect its ecosystems, mitigate climate change, and secure the livelihoods of its most vulnerable populations.

Hussien Mohamed Yusuf

Hussien is a Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability Professional based in Nairobi

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