Atendae Mkanga(35) always wishes to use gas for cooking but cannot do so because that source of energy is not available in her village; instead she finds herself using firewood and charcoal.

The mother of three and living at Charawe village in Unguja South Region, she spends Sh25,000 monthly to buy firewood for cooking food for her family.

Charawe is one of the nine villages surrounding the Jozani National Park, which has been severely affected by environmental degradation caused by deforestation despite being a major tourist attraction in the Isles.

Mkanga is one of the 1,539 villagers who can afford the cost of buying gas but again it is not accessible in the village.

“The shops selling gas are located at  Jozani which is more than 20 kilometers from here, but there is also no transport, the only transport available is  bicycles and motor cycles which costs Sh5,000- for roundtrips,” said Mkanga.

Charawe village has 480 households that use firewood and charcoal for cooking.

Mkanga said that most of the gas dealers have invested in urban areas and the villages that are popular in tourism industry.

She says that she likes to use the gas which she believes can be used easily if it is available compared to firewood which are difficult to find and consume a lot of time to get them.

“The government has banned all deforestation activities and since our villages are surrounded by Jozani National Park, it is difficult to get firewood for cooking,” he said.

Fatma Mahmoud (40) says despite lack of gas shops in their villages, they still don’t have adequate knowledge to use the gas safely.

“If we are educated on the safe ways of using the gas, we will have no fear and we will be more willing to use it,” she said.

However, she says due to unavailability of gas in their village, women continue to suffer as they have to wake up in the early mornings and walk in the forests and spend a lot of time in search of firewood at the expense of engaging in other development activities.

The use of firewood and charcoal is exacerbating forests on the islands as the isles Department of Forestry and Natural Resources reports that around 100 hectares of trees are lost every year.

Haroub Abdi Abdallah (39), a father of five, says the use of charcoal and firewood not only destroys the environment but also affects their homes.

“We need to use the gas as a source of energy because firewood is polluting our homes forcing us to change the colors of our houses to make them look impressive,” he said.

Haroub says availability of firewood has declined compared to the last 10 years due to the increase of population.

Charawe is not the only village facing the problem, but the neighboring village of Ukongoroni with 240 households faces similar problem.

Although the village with the population of 850 people has been connected to electricity from the national grid, it does not use the energy for cooking.

Usheza Mwita Makame (60) says the sources of energy that are mainly used in the village for cooking is firewood and charcoal because they are always readily available.

But she cautions that continued use of firewood will not only affect the Jozani National Park but will also reduce the number of indigenous plants which are used for traditional medicine.

“If someone suffers from asthma we used to go into the forest in search of Myuwi as medicine but nowadays the cure plant is not easily found because of deforestation,” she says.

The village Secretary, Fadhil Sudi Mlenge (40), says despite the government decision to set aside a specific area for villagers to cut firewood people are now invading the national park.

“It is high time the use of the gas is now polularised among the villagers to save the situation but the problem is to get that source of energy. We strongly urge the gas dealers to extend their services to the villages,” he said.

Awesu Shabani Ramadan, Deputy Secretary of the Jozani Environment Conservation Authority Community (JECA) an NGO benefiting from the revenue collected from the Jozani National Park, fears that in the next 20 years half of the Jozani Forest which brings more than Sh1.3billion a year, will be destroyed if an alternative source of energy and specifically the use of gas, is not introduced immediately.

“The Jozani National Park is the economic backbone of the nine villages surrounding the forest including Charawe and Ukongoroni; if efforts to control the damage are not taken, it will be a major blow to the villagers,” he said.

“We are now encouraging the non-destructive forest production activities including irrigation system to ensure that villagers have alternative jobs to avoid deforestation,” he said.

Awesu says that indigenous trees like the mangroves trees that prevent sea erosion are increasingly destroyed every day.

Rahika Hamad Suleiman, from the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources in Zanzibar, says 65 percent of Zanzibar residents and nine out of 10 villagers use firewood and charcoal for cooking.

He says that this situation has caused some of the rare animals like leopards to disappear after being attacked by villagers while animals such as Red duiker and Red Colobus Monkey which are among tourist attractions are increasingly disappearing.

He also says that the water sources such as dams found in the Jozani National Park have dried up because of the forest destruction.

One of the gas distributors, Taufiq Salum acknowledges that they have not reached many rural markets due to the shortage of imported gas and lack of storage infrastructure.

However, he said the problem would be solved soon after the completion of the gas infrastructure at Mangapwani.

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