Charcoal producers in hot water

Trucks with full cargo were also confiscated by the ministry
The ministry already halted commercial logging of mopane trees in the Kunene region in November 2023 after identifying the unsustainable use of this protected species.
Francoise Steynberg
Early in May, the directorate of forestry in the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) raided farms in the Kunene region where protected mopane trees are being felled and exported for the production of charcoal and firewood.
Numerous trucks carrying wood and said charcoal were seized for which no permit could be presented, the ministry confirmed.
An outraged charcoal producer from the Outjo district who wishes to remain anonymous, claims that a forestry officer threatened him and demanded a bribe so that he would not have to close his charcoal business. "What is your charcoal worth to you?" Taddius Nagangombe, the chief forestry officer for the Kunene and Otjozondjupa regions, allegedly asked the farmer, threatening him.
Nagangombe, who is based in Otjiwarongo, vehemently denied the allegations and told Network Media Hub (NMH) that he was just doing his job and following orders from above. He only wants to stop the mass logging of protected mopane trees in the Kunene region.
"He is afraid and came with police officers who got out with AK47s and threatened me. The kilns were extinguished and they wanted to confiscate all the axes. I asked where the court or arrest warrant was," the farmer said.
"My permit was issued by the forestry department in April and is valid until the end of July, but they are halting my production. They are driving from farm to farm with the police. They want to confiscate everything - our wood, our charcoal, our tractors and trailers - and they want to arrest us. Many of our workers have disappeared because they [the ministry and the police] have treated our workers terribly.”
He also says that the charcoal workers mainly work on a debt basis and “we are losing every day because we cannot continue.”
The charcoal producer says that all permits for the transport and export of charcoal have been stopped, including those of the large charcoal factories.
Mopane trees
The ministry’s deputy director, Michael //Otsub, confirmed to NMH that all permits for the felling, transport and export of mopane wood have been temporarily suspended and that no new ones will be issued for the time being.
The ministry had already stopped the commercial felling of mopane trees in the Kunene region in November last year after the unsustainable use of this protected tree species was noticed.
"Last year, there were consultations with the affected persons and mopane was allowed to be harvested, but we have now found that most of them just carried on," said //Otsub. "We had to intervene and stop them. More teams will come so we can go and investigate all the farms," ​​he added.
Nagangombe says forestry officials need to take a police officer to the farms for investigation and protection. "The farmers are angry with me and want to slander my name. I will never ask for or accept a bribe," he stressed.
Both expressed concern about the massive overexploitation of mopane trees in the Kunene region, "especially about the majority of producers who hide behind the clearing and just want to make money".
According to Nagangombe, one of the farmers sprayed 30 hectares of mopane trees with poison. There was also concern about the fact that Angolan workers work on the farms without work permits and for much lower wages than Namibians.
Nexus Charcoal
The managing director of Nexus Charcoal in Outjo, Rian Smit, confirmed that a load of charcoal on his truck had been confiscated because the transport permit was not in the truck, "but they only had to fine me".
He says that these regions are mainly mopane and they need to clear the bushes.
"According to the Charcoal Association of Namibia (COAN), no new permits will be issued issued before an inventory of the farms had been carried out.
"The forestry service should have carried out inspections of the farms from December, but apparently they do not have enough staff. Now they just show up and paralyse us."
Smit says he is unhappy because Nexus cannot get charcoal "because the farms that supply us with coal have been closed."
COAN's executive director, Michael Degé, visited several companies that say their charcoal industry is operating in excellent conditions. "We are in the process of getting everything under control. I will still speak to the producers who have not followed the procedures. Large factories and farms that are COAN members can export again and the trucks are back on the road as transport and export permits have been reissued," he said late Friday afternoon.
Logging permits for mopane trees must first be issued by the forestry directorate in Windhoek as it is a protected species and checks are being carried out on the farms again," Degé said.