Charcoal trade continues unabated in Elgeyo Marakwet despite logging ban

A caravan of motorbikes transporting charcoal along the Ite-Kabaranet road in Elgeyo Marakwet. [Fred Kibor/Standard]

Despite the Government ban on logging and charcoal burning, unscrupulous businessmen have devised ingenious ways of transporting the product to evade arrest.

Charcoal traders in the region have resorted to using motorbikes loaded with the commodity and transferring the sacks to waiting lorries in hidden locations.

The riders are said to operate in convoys, with some being in possession of machetes and rungus ready to confront anyone who stands in their way.

Last week, a contingent of county enforcement officers who attempted to impound one of the motorbikes ferrying charcoal, was attacked by other riders who then fled.

Along the Eldoret-Iten-Kabarnet road, The Standard observed a group of motorcycles, each laden with at least four sacks of charcoal, zooming along the meandering Elgeyo escarpment.

The trend continues past midnight on any given day.

“Ours is to deliver the charcoal to a designated place. We are paid between Sh500 and Sh1, 000 per bag depending on the distance covered. I have never engaged in violence though I know some boda boda riders carry weapons,” said one of the riders ferrying charcoal to Eldoret town.

He admitted that the riders ferry the commodity without any transport permit.

“We are just fending for our families. Life is hard and this world is survival for the fittest, even if there is a ban we have to put food on the table," he added.

Even the police admit that catching up with the riders has become increasingly difficult as the riders control the routes with impunity.

"Arresting riders is a tall order since they cannot stop. If you trail them, they won't give you way and it is dangerous since you can knock them down. But the security team has devised a way to arrest the situation,” said Keiyo North AP Commander Joseph Biwott, who revealed that night patrols had been enhanced.

On a daily basis, hundreds of boda boda ply the route making numerous trips with some taking the commodity to as far as Eldoret town.

The price of charcoal retails at more than Sh2,000 per sack in most estates within the region where most households use it for fuel.

At the fragile Elgeyo escarpment, smoke can be seen billowing from numerous charcoal kilns, the tree cover is steadily ebbing away, motivating landslides.

Along the escarpment, rock falls and landslides are a common occurrence, a clear indication the ground has been left bare due to unabated illegal human activities.

Kenya Forest Service (KFS) North Rift Commander David Rono admitted that the issue of transporting charcoal through motorcycles is fast getting out of hand.

“KFS does not issue any permits and we have learnt that chiefs issue permits to locals in Kerio Valley to harvest trees at local farms which are then cut for charcoal. We have enhanced highway patrols to arrest the culprits,” said the KFS official.

Locals blame their administration and security officers for turning a blind eye on the issue.

“It is foolhardy to think the law enforcers are oblivious to this business. The Government directive is being flouted and we believe the traders collude with security personnel to allow the charcoal to pass through,” said Joseph Chesang, a Kerio Valley resident.

Urban centres

Mr Chesang said the charcoal trade was thriving unhindered and the ban on tree harvesting had pushed up the price of the commodity in urban centres.

“Kerio valley has a range of indigenous trees famed for charcoal, thus explaining the rush for the fuel. A sack now retails Sh1, 000 up from Sh500 before the ban. The Government should investigate those behind the trade,” said Chesang.

Some residents blamed high poverty levels in the semi-arid Kerio for the ongoing charcoal trade.

County Environment Executive Abraham Barsosio said the motorcycle riders are ruthless and arrogant.