''Extract taken from The Guardian, Nigeria - www.ngrguardiannews.com
written by by Adamu Abu, Kano''

FOR the past two years, Mrs. Salmotu Adigun, who lives in Kurna Asabe, off the Kano metropolis had cooked for her family with charcoal.

Before then, she used kerosene as cooling fuel, but she told The Guardian she packed and put away the stove she was using when the price of kerosene rose beyond her reach.

"We had a stove I used when I could afford to buy kerosene. But about two years ago, the price rose to about N90.00 per litre and I did not have that kind of money. That was when I switched over to charcoal."

It is not only to prepare food that those rural and urban residents of Kano and other states in the north have turned to charcoal. From now and for the next three or four months, the cold and extremely dry and dusty wind, called Harmattan, which blows towards West Africa from the Sahara, would prevail, literally sending shivers down the spines of men, women and children.

As it comes, residents of the north, where it is always more severe, would be thinking of how to keep their homes warm. Except for the affluent in the society, homes are not heated by electricity.

Even where some would have managed to install heaters in their homes, the ailing and unreliable public power supply makes such a venture most expensive and therefore, unattainable.

Most of the residents of Kano and elsewhere in the north, especially those in the rural areas, have found succour in the lowly charcoal.

Thus, charcoal not only cooks their food and keeps the home warm, especially at night; it is also a major income earner to those involved in the trade.

Even before the cold weather proper, the charcoal merchants had been getting ready, arranging for supplies and stockpiling in their warehouses.

From the Middle-belt and even further south, the suppliers had begun felling trees, cutting them up, and drying them in the sun.

They then burn them to yield charcoal, which is then loaded in trucks for the ready markets in Kano and elsewhere in the north.

To the teeming population of cash-strapped residents of Kano, who cannot afford to buy kerosene or gas, the availability of charcoal makes all the difference.

One resident, Mustapha Musa, offered an insight as to why he had to rely on charcoal saying: "It is cheap, reliable and convenient to use. I use it to cook and warm my house in this period of the harmattan."

At a busy charcoal sales outlet along France Road in the Kano metropolis, no fewer than 30 able- bodied men were sighted offloading bags of charcoal from trucks into a warehouse.

Others attended to retail and wholesale customers.

A customer, Mrs. A. Samson told The Guardian: "The truth is that with just N50, I can get enough charcoal to prepare food for my family. I cannot say the same with kerosene. I would need to spend N250.00. I find charcoal very convenient."

The Chairman of Charcoal Dealers' Association in Kano, Malam Jamilu Umaru, admitted that demand for charcoal had increased as a result of the prohibitive cost of kerosene in recent times.

He said a bag of charcoal, which sold at between N900.00 and N1, 000.00 now sells at N1, 200.

On the source, Umaru said: "We don't have many trees here in the north as we have in the Middle-belt and further down South.

Virtually all the charcoal you see here comes from there."

Though a legitimate business, what Umaru and others who deal on and use charcoal as cooking fuel fail to realize is that they are contributing to desertification and deforestation, which is a major ecological threat in Nigeria.

Head of Hust Global Resources, Alhaji Umar Karaye, who said it was frightening that the desert was fast closing in at the speed of 0.6 kilometres per year justified the campaign, stating: " It is about desertification and deforestation and their attendant consequences on our environment. It is about how, due to our actions and inactions, we are knowingly or unknowingly contributing to desertification and deforestation, which have serious effects on our lives and that of our animals.

He also agreed that if government made electricity supply regular and provided alternative energy such as gas for cooking, the problem associated with the felling of trees and reliance on charcoal would be reduced to the barest minimum.

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