Coal burning big business in Mocho, Clarendon 

Coal burning big business in Mocho, Clarendon

Clarendon - There are bags of coal on the grassy front yard of 56-year-old Ventura Walker. a housewife living in this deep rural community. She always has her ears tuned to passing vehicles which stop to find out the price of the fuel.
"It's $300 for each bag or $250 wholesale." she says. "My father used to burn coal from I was a child. Now I sell coal for people. Some days there is no sale but some days are very good." said Walker.She and other residents in the community who burn coal for a living are seeing more of the good days since there seems to be an increased demand for coal both locally and for export.
The best times for coal vendors. is the rainy season. "In the dry time it's hard. but when weather time. them run you down." said another vendor.
Vendors find a market not only from local people but from supermarkets. market vendors and also a growing export market. Data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) showed that in 2004. was exported to the United States. In the same year.774 was imported from the North American country.
The coal burners in Mocho are glad about the growing demand. "When the truck passing." says former mason. a resident. "I can buy my shoes. everything. It (coal) can buy more things and you work for yourself. When I was working as a mason. they find money to buy the material and then they can pay you. Now. you sell your coal and pay yourself." said Bryan.
Locals in Mocho say that during the recent shortage of charcoal in the United States. "an occurrence related to a mining explosion". there was a surge in local demand for charcoal to be exported.The Reuters news agency. in a May 8 article written by Nick Carey and entitled 'Coal is the new black'. said that after decades of relying heavily on natural gas. electric utilities were raising coal inventories as fast as they could.
"Now that natural gas is no longer cheap the companies want as much coal as possible." the report said.Officials from the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) said they have noted no indication of an increase in use of charcoal for energy use in Jamaica. Usage. has remained primarily for residential purposes as no commercial applications were known.
In many Jamaican urban communities. persons who jerk chicken for a living rely on the rural supply of coal for their cooking fuel. Besides use as fuel for cooking. charcoal is used in certain metallurgical "purifying" treatments and as a filter to remove organic compounds such as chlorine. and other toxic chemicals from water and air. Activated charcoal. which has a super absorptive surface is used in purifying and refining metals.
NutraSweet (tm) uses activated charcoal to transform the product into a powder. Activated charcoal is used as an antidote for many types of poisons and is touted as an effective anti-flatulent. But burning coal. Mocho residents said. was not an easy option for those looking for quick cash.
"Burning coal is not for lazy man. They say only woman and coal take so much work." chuckled Bryan. He admitted that he cried many tears when he just began burning coal as the cutting and packing was so hard that he did not think he could carry on.
He cried. he said because in those early days he had invested his last dollars into the new venture and the possibility of failure was daunting. The tedious preparation process is now routine for him. The wood is first cut. covered with dirt. lit and left to burn. The burning wood requires frequent inspections. involving journeys to the 'still' (kiln) at 3:00 am and other odd hours. The wood can burn for as long as one week before it is ready for bagging and the market.
Sometimes the result is as much as 20 bags and these have to be carried by shoulder or donkey to the home. Carlene Wesley. 33-year-old mother of four children claimed. "Coal is my source." She has been using the proceeds to care for her children. her brothers and sister.
"Carlene is not the only woman who burns coal for a living." said Livingston. "You have other woman bad with the cutlass. Them have children to go to high school. Everybody here involve in coal. Is either do that or thief. a 58-year-old Clarendonian. said: "You just burn coal because you want to live a honest life. Coal is dangerous work. life or death business. If rain fall you can die.
Added Livingston Bryan: "I am a diabetic and the doctors says that the heat is not good. I can black out and fall in the still (kiln)."You have to know when to rest and how to drink water until your body temperature falls." Williams said. Meanwhile. Arlene Wesley admitted that one of her children. fell ill in the bush and had to be taken to the doctor for treatment. "But we have nothing else to live off."
Other hazards involved in the coal-burning business include the loss of investment from fires which burn out of control. Coal burning an environmental hazard? the hills are red at night in the dry season. The glow. is not from the setting summer sun but from bush fires set by those who burn charcoal. Some hills are piebald. mute testimony to summertime burnings. There are grassy hillsides on slopes which were once covered by trees.
"You come out at night and you cannot breathe. I can't stand the smell. Sometimes. you look and see a light on every hill." said Odette Eccles. farmer from the district. She is concerned about the effect of the coal burning on the environment. "Its destroying the environment." said Eccles. "We are having less rain."
But coal is big business in Mocho and where the alternative is to see their children starve. farmers prefer to burn trees as fuel. But to persons like Carlene Wesley. environmental concerns pale in comparison to the need for survival.
"We need help. I have children. There is no bauxite here. What will they give us to do when they stop us?" she asks. "They are importing it too. If it should stop burning. my children would just die or thief."
Keith Porter. senior director in the Forestry Department. said coal burning was a recognised livelihood activity. The legal issue is whether areas protected under the Forestry Act were being plundered for raw material. When done on private land. coal burning is not a legal offence. Protected areas include the Blue and John Crow Mountains. the Cockpit Country and Big Head in Clarendon. The areas in Mocho would be considered private property.
In many cases. private properties were left untended and so trees may be taken without the owners' knowledge. In other cases it is an issue of connived trespassing. as owners deliberately turn a blind eye to use of wood on their property for coal burning. If the landowner permits the activity. there is no problem.
The forestry official said that it is a problem if the wood is taken from mangrove areas. but he added that in terms of environmental impact rain falls regardless of the vegetative cover. "Lack of cover might affect the percolation into streams. But production of fuel from wood is a reality we cannot get around. Denudation does not equal degradation." he said.
Porter said that National Forest Management Plan has looked at the issue of wood for fuel production. as a sustainable approach is needed to the use of wood for fuel. The Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica has also studied the production of fuel wood at Font Hill. Many projects have been considered but none have been activated. He also said that coal burning as a source of respiratory problems is unlikely in rural areas where smoke dissipates. The activity. should not be carried out near dwellings.
Research has also been done. on more efficient ways in which the charcoal can be prepared as currently the ratio of wood to charcoal in common kilns is five to one. Reduction of this ratio would mean the use of less wood.


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