Thursday, 28 November 2013

IN THE FIELD - Charcoal production in Papua New Guinea

Tony Bartlett, ACIAR’s Forestry Research Program Manager, recently travelled to Papua New Guinea (PNG) to see how our research has helped establish community groups that produce and sell charcoal...

About  85% of households in PNG still use fuelwood for cooking, with the average use being six times more than most countries in the Asia-Pacific region. So, fuelwood is an integral part of PNG’s domestic economy. There is a clear opportunity for smallholder farmers (like Tom pictured below) to make money from growing and selling fuelwood from their own tree plantations.
Farmer Tom (left) with researcher Dr Ian Nuberg
in Tom's fuelwood tree patch

ACIAR research has shown a variety of tree species are suitable for fuelwood in PNG, and can be grown using a short rotation (2 years). Since the harvested trees regenerate from the remaining stumps, the fuelwood production can be sustainable. But consumers in PNG have preferred to buy traditional-looking fuelwood cut from existing native trees, even though the short-rotation wood is just as efficient to burn. So, how can consumers be convinced to buy the new product and in turn create incentives for farmers to grow fuelwood?

One possibility involves selling the fuelwood as charcoal, which is much lighter (so easier to carry) and still efficient to burn. ACIAR funded research to examine the feasibility of establishing charcoal-producing groups as community business entities in PNG.
stoves made from metal buckets
Charcoal bucket stoves are easy to make and sell

Jesse Abiuda Mitir, from the PNG Forest Research Institute, led this research under the guidance of Dr Ian Nuberg from Australia’s University of Adelaide. With support from Unitech’s Appropriate Technology for Community Development Institute, the team developed low-cost charcoal-burning stoves using galvanised iron buckets, which are both cheap and readily available.

Jesse then used radio announcements to invite farmers from the Lae and Mt Hagen regions to participate in training sessions on how to make and use the stoves, how to grow fuelwood trees, how to make charcoal, and how to set up a small business. The approach has proved so successful that 7 farmer groups are now operating businesses near Lae and one in the Mt Hagen area.

man cooking with bucket stove
Demonstrating cooking with these stoves at
the 2011 International Year of Forests Celebration

I visited farmer Tom of one of these groups, to look at his charcoal-producing operation. Tom lives just outside Lae and has an area of natural forest near his house. He wanted to learn how to plant trees to maintain the forest, as well as find a way to improve his family’s livelihood. He attended the training and with the project’s support he started his own charcoal business.

Tom has been making charcoal from branches left after logging, and is selling it at the Lae market for 3 kina per kilogram (which is a decent earning from agricultural products in the region). He has already made and sold 10 charcoal stoves (at 100 kina each) and has another 7 stoves ready to sell. Since starting his new business, Tom has planted many Eucalyptus pellita trees around his house to provide a source for his charcoal production. The new trees are growing very quickly and should be ready for him to harvest within two years. Tom is very grateful to Jesse and the project team for helping him set up this new business.
man selling charcoal stoves at market
Charcoal group member Robin selling his stoves
and charcoal at Lae market
I also visited another member of the Lae Charocoal Group, Robin, who was selling stoves and charcoal at the Lae Market. Robin also received his training through the ACIAR project, and was showing families who were visiting the market how the charcoal stoves worked. He had quite a crowd around him during his demonstration! He was selling the stoves at the market and to people in his village. Like farmer Tom, Robin was also making reasonable money from selling charcoal.

These two farmers are showing that charcoal-production groups can be effective and sustainable community-based, commercial entities in the forestry sector. ACIAR is looking at ways of enhancing the adoption by farmers of these income-generating technologies as part of a new community forestry project.

By Tony Bartlett, Forestry Research Program Manager

More information:
Listen to Tony on Radio Australia's interview

ACIAR projects
FST/2006/088 Promoting diverse fuelwood production systems in PNG, including final report
FST/2011/058 Facilitating the establishment of charcoal producer groups in PNG
Papua New Guinea research strategy 


  1. An interesting post. My exposure to the issue of charcoal (and/or firewood) as a principal source of energy was in Tanzania where the process were a major source of environmental damage.

    The major industrial user of firewood was the tea industry but it appeared they had "seen the light" and were now planting eucalypt plantations and thus not felling the rainforests.

    With domestic use charcoal was frequently used, but that simply made the loads lighter for the sellers to carry. (They still used to be seen 60+km out of Dar es Salaam carting 50kg sacks of charcoal on a push bike.) Much of the felling and burning used to involve habitat destruction, just on a small scale.

    The process described in the post is very much a matter of positives, in encouraging the entrepreneurs to grow plantations. However it seems to me that economics would suggest that using a native tree (free) gives a higher profit than using a plantation tree (cost =X, >0). Might I suggest - being very optimistic that a royalty approach be introduced to raise the price of the native trees so that the plantation wood was more attractive economically.

    Best regards

    Martin Butterfield

  2. Great information sir, if you want buy some wood charcoal you can visit :



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