Monday, February 24, 2014

Charcoal Economics

Wood charcoal is famous among Filipinos (and other people in other countries) for cooking and grilling food, like grilled barbeque, tilapia, bangus, etc. One wonders how is it made by fire and yet the wood does not turn into fine ashes.

In the farm in Bugallon, Pangasinan, we cut branches, crooked trees, to allow the trees to grow bigger and taller. Three weeks ago, there was also selective logging in the farm, lots of branches and tree tops to be used for making charcoal or "uling". This is a previous charcoal pit.

Charcoal makers get wood elsewhere. Here, a couple cut felled branches.

Crooken trunks and branches that cannot be used for lumber, or too cumbersome and costly to be brought to furniture shops to be sold, are materials for charcoal making.

The pile will be covered by dry rice straw.

The rice straw will be covered by soil. One charcoal maker gamely poses. I told him, "ilalagay ko picture sa internet ha?" and he willingly smiled.

There is only one opening where air can get in. The heat, not exactly big fire, will "cook" the wood and branches, three days after.

It takes about 3D/3N for this pile to become charcoal. So charcoal makers live near the pit. When there is an accidental opening around the mound where more air can get in and cause big fire inside, they must cover it at once.

The price of charcoal can go up or down, depending on the season. This dry season, charcoal is cheap because rural folks seldom do rice farming, not enough irrigation, they go to the mountains to cut trees in public land, so charcoal supply is big. During the rainy season, charcoal making takes a back seat as rural folks are busy with rice farming and other activities. It is also not possible to make charcoal during heavy rains.

Current price is about P110 per sack, farmgate price, for a 3-cans sack. Traders pay for transportation from the farm to public markets, then sell for a bigger margin, retailing at P200 per sack or more.

In private forestry, there are various sharing schemes between the tree or land owners and the charcoal makers. In our case, we get 1/3, the charcoal makers get 2/3. Charcoal makers are usually subsistent income earners, they do not earn enough, but at least there is legal source of income, unlike those who steal trees from public forest land.

See also:
Denuded mountains, March 31, 2009 
New Upland Dwellers and the DENR, August 21, 2013
From Forestland to Grassland, September 21, 2012 

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