Towards charcoal traceability in the Ivory Coast

Gaiachain experts Kacper Gazda and Eulalie Guillaume were contracted by NGO REM who specialise in forest monitoring to implement a one-year project to pilot charcoal traceability in Ivory Coast. As part of the project, they spent two weeks there with local partner Malebi to investigate a charcoal supply chain. Why? To understand the real-world challenges and implications of using a blockchain-based app for traceability.

‘Malebi’ means charcoal in the local Adjoukrou language of a southern Ivory Coast district. It’s also the name for the Association of Women Producers and Traders of Secondary Forest Products, who are on a mission to make legal and sustainable charcoal production a reality for a country that has one of the worst deforestation histories in recent years. In a country where half of the urban population uses charcoal for cooking and its scent fills the air from the ubiquitous maquis (street restaurants) in the capital Abidjan, charcoal is an incredibly important fuel source. Unfortunately, much of the charcoal production comes from illegal sources, and sometimes from protected forest reserves. Malebi is leading regenerative work to reverse the trend by restoring forests, adopting agroforestry practices and fighting poverty and food insecurity — all the while changing attitudes about women in forestry in the Ivory Coast.

Bagging charcoal

Delphine Ahoussi, President of MALEBI, greeted Eulalie and Kacper when they recently landed in Abidjan for a pilot project in charcoal traceability in the classified Ahua Forest.

Gaiachain, REM and FAO team in the field

The aim of the project is to use REM’s expertise in tackling illegal activities linked to deforestation combined with Gaiachain’s innovations in traceability and identification of forest products, to help Malebi guarantee the provenance of their charcoal. The team is also working with Malebi on defining a legality and sustainability framework to eventually help them distinguish their legal charcoal and take advantage of “green” markets.

As well as producing legal charcoal from the Ahua forest, Malebi also established a 100-ha agroforestry plantation of Cassia siamea and Technona grandis, mixed with food crops (rice, maize, yams and cassava) in the degraded forest.

Step one of the trip was to map out MALEBI'S local supply chain, starting from the charcoal production sites in the Ahua forest, a 4500 ha area close to the city of Dimbokro in the south of the country. From harvesting the wood, the logs are then chopped and carbonised in large kilns (ovens) to create charcoal. From there, the charcoal is bagged and transported by truck to Abidjan, where it is stored and sold to individuals and small restaurants who come to purchase from the storage facility. Kacper and Eulalie were able to follow the charcoal at every step of the journey, from forest to market. The insights gained will be invaluable for the next step of the project, finalising the app that Malebi will be able to use to trace and distinguish their legally produced charcoal from the others out there on the market.

MALEBI selling the bags of charcoal in Abidjan.

Once finalised, the simple Gaiachain app will allow MALEBI'S members to enter identification data at every point of the supply chain, and give buyers confidence that the charcoal they are purchasing is from a legal source.

Although a work in progress, we expect data including a unique ID, GPS, and transportation data to be included in the capabilities of the app. It will be interesting to see what sort of effect the labelling and transparency of this innovative project will have on the local communities and buyers, but we expect it to be increasingly important in coming years, especially if MALEBI wish to enter the international market and access the growing EU demand for responsibly sourced timber products, which will require evidence to prove legal and ethical origins.

This is one of two pilot projects currently being implemented by Gaiachain experts. The other, led by Gaiachain, focuses on cocoa production, also in the Ivory Coast. We believe that a blockchain-based traceability app, combined with rigorous governance and on-the-ground practices could help companies make some long-awaited progress towards zero-deforestation commitments that have so far failed to come to fruition. Stay tuned for progress on the collaboration with MALEBI and their legal charcoal production efforts in the Ivory Coast.

If you are a company looking to take action on your zero-deforestation commitments, or an organisation interested in partnering to enhance sustainable commodity production, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with Eulalie Guillaume

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