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Congo: Fish smoking driving deforestation

A fish smoking oven in Pointe-Noire, Republic of Congo   -  
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Republic of the Congo

Smoked fish is a popular delicacy in Congo. Locally known as Makwala, the fish is craved for its rich aroma.

But for Makwala to meet the preferences of its ardent consumers, a lot of wood has to burn.

The high demand for fuel to smoke fish is driving deforestation in Congo. Vast areas of mangrove forests have disappeared as a result.

"On one hectare, I can have about 700 trees, 1000, or 250, or 500 it depends. One thing is sure. In one month, I can cut down trees over 3000 meters by 100 meters," said Kifani, a logger.

Congo's forests make up just over 10% of the Congo-basin forest cover, and after exhausting the Mangrove trees on the country's coast, loggers are increasingly targeting the forest.

The Congo-basin rainforest is the world's second-largest after the Amazon. It is home to countless species and is crucial to mitigating climate change by soaking greenhouse gases.

But illegal and uncontrolled logging has increased in recent years, threatening the delicate ecosystem.

"For twenty boxes of fish, the wood content is two tri-cycles, when it is well loaded. (...). It is a significant quantity. We can use it for a whole day. Smoking fish is a difficult job. It depends on the quantity and size of the fish. When it comes to big fish, it consumes quite a bit of wood unlike frying," said a female fish smoker who identified herself only as Queen. 

Some charities are trying to get vendors to embrace improved smoking ovens which use less fuel. But the initiative has struggled. The smokers find the ovens expensive.

Electricity is unreliable and many people cannot afford gas.

There's no clear data on how much wood is used for smoking fish. But it's not hard to see the link between fish smoking and deforestation.

A combination of poverty, weak enforcement, and poor governance is to blame for out-of-control logging.

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