By Abdi Hussein
Cooking gas high prices currently have been blamed for sharp rise in demand for charcoal in Kitengela and other Kajiado satellite towns that, in turn, has fuelled illegal logging in in Kajiado county.
Almost two weeks after Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) imposed 16 percent tax on liquefied petroleum gas leading to cooking gas prices shooting through the roof, most households have now turned to charcoal as an alternative source of energy for cooking.
In the region cooking gas is retailing at between Sh1,000 and Sh 1,250 for 6kg cylinder with 13kg cylinder selling for between Sh 2,300 and Sh 2,600 depending on the brand. Two weeks ago the same cylinders used to retail at Sh800 to Sh1,800 on average respectively.
With rising energy prices, charcoal remains the most sought-after source of energy in this region, despite the ongoing government ban on logging and charcoal burning countrywide. The national government imposed a moratorium on logging in public and community forests in 2018.
Most residents, however, argue that they cannot afford cooking gas in the current economic hardship informed by collapsing business and massive laying offs of workers in the private sector prompted by Covid-19 pandemic economic effects.
“I can no longer afford to buy cooking gas. I used to buy the 13 kilogramme cylinder twice per month. My only option is to use charcoal as a source of energy, which is not cheap either, but I can afford at least a two kilogramme container of charcoal daily,” explained Jane Muthoni.
A spot check by the County Shopper in Kitengela town indicated a bag of charcoal is retailing at Sh 2,500 with a two kilogramme container selling at Sh 100. Bags of charcoal are ferried from Kajiado Central and Oloilelai Subcounties using motorcycles where illegal logging and charcoal burning is said to have resumed lately.
Removal of police roadblock along Namanga highway has escalated the problem. Motorcycle riders operate early in the morning with each motorcycle ferrying in between 4 to 6 bags per trip.
A rider who spoke to County Shopper on condition of anonymity said about 50 motorcycle riders are hooked into the lucrative business with each rider making two trips in a day.
“Some of us supply to hotels and households, but some are paid to ferry the charcoal to waiting vehicles along the Namanga highway. The charcoal is transported to as far off destinations as Nairobi,” he confided.
Charcoal retailers in Kitengela town and other satellite towns are enjoying a booming business.
Oloilelai Sub county Deputy County Commissioner Justin Maina said the security team in collaboration with local administration and Kenya Forest Service officers has intensfied village to village patrols to curb the illegal logging.
“We are aware of the new trend but we have intensified patrols. Lately we have taken dozen suspects to court and we will not relent in fighting illegal logging in private and communal lands,” vowed Mr Maina.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in March last year the security agencies seem to have relaxed on the fight against illegal logging that is currently being fuelled by high prices of cooking gas pushing the demand of charcoal higher. Residents interviewed by County Shopper have appealed to the national government to review cooking gas prices downwards to save the country’s forests.
By Abdi Hussein