Increasing charcoal production sustainability in Mali

NOTS is an entrepreneurial development organisation that invests in renewable energy products for developing countries. It is a frontrunner organisation in developing sustainable business models for renewable energy applications. NOTS has two major projects: The sales and distribution of PV LED lights with solar panels, and the Sustainable Charcoal and Agroforestry project. I worked for NOTS during one year as Project Manager on the development of a business model for Sustainable Charcoal and Agroforestry. I set up the first pilot in Mali, and worked on the formation of a local NOTS Mali Charcoal team, that currently works full-force on completion of the pilot.

The Sustainable Charcoal and Agroforestry project
In many developing countries charcoal is the prime energy source for cooking and heating. The global production of wood charcoal is estimated at 50 million metric tonnes, with an annual growth rate of about 2%. Africa accounts for over 60% of this production. Consequences are large-scale deforestation and desertification. For a country like Mali, poor and largely arid to semi-arid, this trend is potentially catastrophic. Parts of the country such as the legendary Timbuktu are currently more Sahara then Sahel, and food scarcity is a serious issue.

The business model NOTS developed consists of two main pillars: (I) efficient charcoal ovens (retorts) for increasing efficiency of production; these retorts require only 3 kg of wood for 1 kg of charcoal instead of 7 using the traditional method; in addition the combustion times of the retorts are much shorter, 2 days instead of 14; and (II) an agroforestry system for the production of wood (80%) and food crops (20%). It is a community project, in which a part of the profits that are generated by the project are reimbursed to NOTS until the initial investments are covered.

Implementing the business model generates the following results:

  • Charcoal-driven deforestation is stopped.
  • Sufficient charcoal is produced.
  • Sufficient food for the participating communities is produced.
  • Income of the participating community increases by at least 20%.
  • In addition the business model is financially sustainable: the required investments are recuperated within less than 3 years.

Current status of the pilot project
The first pilot projects are situated in the villages Seranikoro and Moribougou, located about 60 km northwest of Bamako. A test retort is built in each of these villages, and a tree nursery established. The current status of the project (as to date September 2012):

  • Two test retorts constructed and tested with excellent results! Exact numbers still need to be published, but the expected efficiency seems to be feasible.
  • The nursery is successfully established and trees are transplanted to the agroforestry area.

You can click here to < Download a one-pager of the project [PDF] >*

For more information, visit the NOTS website.


*One-pager speaks about another pilot area. The pilot location changed shortly after I created this one-pager.