Illegal Charcoal Production in Somalia and Its Impact on Pastoral and Agro-pastoral Livelihoods: A Crisis of Environmental Degradation and Socioeconomic Disruption

FILE - Somali porters offload charcoal from a truck at a charcoal market in Mogadishu, Oct. 30, 2012.

By Hussien Mohamed Yusuf


The production and trade of charcoal have become a pressing concern in Somalia, as they contribute to both environmental degradation and socioeconomic disruption. Charcoal, produced from wood through a process of incomplete combustion, has become a major source of income for various actors in the country. However, the widespread illegal charcoal production is exacting a heavy toll on Somalia’s fragile ecosystems and exacerbating challenges faced by pastoral and agro pastoral communities. This piece delves into the issue of illegal charcoal production in Somalia, examining its drivers, actors, environmental consequences, and the profound impact on pastoral and agro-pastoral livelihoods.

Drivers and Actors of Illegal Charcoal Production

Illegal charcoal production in Somalia is driven by a complex interplay of factors. Poverty, conflict, and lack of alternative livelihoods have compelled many to turn to charcoal production as a source of income. The absence of effective governance and law enforcement, coupled with a lack of regulatory mechanisms, has created an environment conducive to the growth of this illicit industry. Additionally, charcoal’s high demand in urban centers and neighboring countries like the Gulf states further fuels its production and trade.

Various actors participate in the illegal charcoal trade. From local communities to armed groups and business entities, each group plays a role in different stages of the charcoal production chain. Local communities are often engaged in the extraction and initial processing of wood, while armed groups exploit the trade for revenue generation. Business entities, both within Somalia and abroad, are involved in the transportation and export of charcoal, capitalizing on the lack of transparency and enforcement mechanisms.

Environmental Consequences of Illegal Charcoal Production

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

Furthermore, the process of charcoal production itself releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. The degradation of forests also diminishes the carbon sequestration potential of these ecosystems, exacerbating the global climate crisis. The degradation of natural resources further undermines the resilience of pastoral and agro-pastoral communities in the face of increasing climate variability.

Impact on Pastoral and Agro-pastoral Livelihoods

The impacts of illegal charcoal production on pastoral and agro-pastoral livelihoods are profound. Pastoral communities in Somalia rely on the availability of grazing land and water resources for their livestock, which forms the cornerstone of their livelihoods. The deforestation and degradation caused by illegal charcoal production directly threaten these resources, leading to reduced grazing areas and diminished water availability. This triggers conflicts over scarce resources among different communities and exacerbates 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 reduced water retention capacities, impacting 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 resilience to shocks is severely compromised.

Efforts to Address Illegal Charcoal Production

Efforts to address illegal charcoal production in Somalia require a multi-faceted approach that combines environmental conservation with economic and social development. The following strategies are crucial:

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

Alternative Livelihoods: Introducing sustainable alternative livelihoods can help alleviate the economic pressure driving people to engage in charcoal production. Skill development, vocational training, and job creation initiatives can provide viable alternatives for communities.

Community Engagement: Involving local communities in the management and conservation of natural resources is crucial. 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 curb the demand for illegal charcoal and reduce its profitability.

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


The illegal charcoal production crisis in Somalia represents a multifaceted challenge that transcends environmental degradation and impacts the livelihoods of pastoral and agro-pastoral communities. The nexus between environmental sustainability and community resilience is undeniable, and addressing this crisis requires coordinated efforts from various stakeholders. Combating illegal charcoal production necessitates not only environmental conservation but also the empowerment of communities and the provision of sustainable alternative livelihoods. In doing so, Somalia can work towards safeguarding its ecosystems, mitigating climate change, and securing the livelihoods of its most vulnerable populations.

Hussien Mohamed Yusuf

Hussien is Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability Professional based in Nairobi

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Horndiplomat editorial policy.
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