By Ike Señeres

Do not be alarmed, but the barbecued chicken that you are ordering from your favorite fast food restaurant may be causing the water shortage that we are now experiencing. Not only that, it may also be causing the worsening of global warming that is also killing many plants and animals in our planet. This is now a different world. Who would have thought that the plastic bag that you used to take home your barbecued chicken might be the same plastic that ended up in the stomach of the whale that died due to too much ingestion of garbage? The correlation might be remote, and that is why it would really be difficult to imagine what your barbecued chicken has to do with the water shortage and global warming.

To go direct to the point, the demand for barbecued food has in turn created a demand for wooden charcoal, and that is where my story begins. For so long a time now, perhaps even going back before the Spanish period, forest dwellers have been slashing and burning trees in the forest, for the purpose of converting these into wooden charcoal. For so many years now, these people have been called “slash and burn farmers” but I disagree with that because I would rather call them “illegal loggers”, simply because they are not even “farmers”, so to speak. By some stretch of my imagination, I would agree to call them “farmers” if they go into actual “tree farming”, but that is just about as vague as requiring logging concessionaires to do their own reforestation.

Aside from the commercial demand for wooden charcoal, there is also a huge residential demand, because for the most part, the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) has now gone beyond the budget of many people, perhaps including even the middle class. This is a problem that has caused yet another problem, and that is the problem of substituting LPG with wood or wooden charcoal. This is a situation that has somehow put us between the devil and the deep blue sea, because we do not seem to have a way out now, not unless the price of LPG will go lower. Actually, the use of LPG is also a problem, because the production of LPG causes carbon emissions that in turn accelerate global warming. So what is the way out?

It may sound simplistic to you, but to me, the only way to meet the demand for charcoal is to increase the supply of wood and similar materials and there is no other way to do that except reforestation or tree farming, in other words. If you ask me, I will tell you that trees that could produce food or food by-products should be given the priority in choosing the species to be planted, and because of that, bamboos would qualify, because it produces edible bamboo shoots. Strictly speaking, a bamboo is not a tree because it is actually a grass, but never mind that because its trunk could be processed into charcoal and that is really the main point of our discussion here. By the way, sugar cane is also a grass, but it produces food, and the stalks could be processed into charcoal briquettes.

Just as the demand for food could not be stopped, the demand for cooking fuels could also not be stopped. Either the government subsidizes the price of LPG, or it orders the production of more charcoal. If it does the latter, there should be a prior condition, and that is the planting of more trees in the forests that could be turned into charcoal, and that should include bamboos. I know that I might sound like I am going around the bush, but what I am really trying to say here is that instead of going after the small scale “illegal loggers” who are continuing to deplete our standing inventory of trees, we should turn charcoal manufacturing into an industry, since it already has a global demand.

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