Charcoal production in Myeik on the rise, spurred by higher domestic demand, illegal exports

The production and sale of charcoal in Myanmar has been on the rise in recent years and not just because of domestic demand. Based on an investigative trip to Myeik, Tanintharyi Region, recently, The Myanmar Times learned that a large, unrecorded volume of charcoal is being illegally exported to Thailand.

In Yangon, demand for charcoal to grill food is widespread. Compared to other cooking substitutes, charcoal is cheaper and generates heat for much longer.

“People prefer buying charcoal. The price is K 800 per viss. Grilled food shops usually buy more charcoal compared to teashops and other food stalls,” a charcoal seller from Thaketa market told The Myanmar Times.

At Yangon’s 19th Street for example, stalls selling grilled food consume about 2 viss- 4 viss of charcoal per day.

Demand for charcoal is high not just in big cities like Yangon and Mandalay though. In areas like Myeik and Kyunsu township, Tanintharyi Region, which do not receive electricity from the national grid, residents have for years depended on charcoal produced from the forest for cooking.

According to the Myanmar Population Census 2014, around 52 percent of the Tanintharyi population used firewood for cooking while another 43.5pc used charcoal. Tanintharyi has three districts, 16 townships and 283,099 family units, housing a population of 1.4 million people.

In the 2017-18 fiscal year, around 29,420 tonnes of charcoal was produced in Tanintharyi Region despite a 10,000 tonne limit implemented by the regional government to prevent deforestation, according to regional data

A portion of the charcoal produced is sold to local villages while the remainder is transported to cities like Yangon and Mandalay.

Illegal exports

But a large unrecorded volume of charcoal produced in Tanintharyi Region is also illegally exported across the Myanmar-Thai border.

At the border, this reporter personally witnessed bags of Myanmar charcoal being transported to Thailand in shipping containers. According to one Myeik villager who previously worked at a warehouse in Thailand, most of the charcoal is re-exported to Europe.

Before timber logging was made illegal in 2014, there were many charcoal warehouses located around 30 kilometers from Ranong which were used to store charcoal produced in Kyunsu township, one trader told The Myanmar Times.

Back then, charcoal was transported across the border by speed boats, each carrying at least 200 bags containing 20 viss of charcoal each, residents said. At least 20 trips were made per week.

That trade still exists, illegally, until today. According to Myanmar law, charcoal production is only permitted for local use, an official from the Forest Department of Tanintharyi Region told The Myanmar Times.

Despite it being illegal though, many locals in Tanintharyi press on with the trade, claiming they have few other options to make a living.

Source : Myanmar Times

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