After the collapse of government in Somalia in 1991, ordinary people were thrust into extreme poverty. With many traditional livelihoods made impossible by conflict, Somalia saw a surge in production of charcoal for export to the Gulf States, particularly in the forested regions of Lower and Middle Jubbaland. 

This charcoal production has had a devastating impact on the environment, destroying forests that supported biodiversity and wildlife, and damaging water sources. By 2012, charcoal production was estimated to be causing annual deforestation of up to 5%, and exported charcoal was being taxed by Al Shabaab, allowing them to earn millions of dollars.

In response, the UN Security Council banned all charcoal exports from Somalia in 2012, cutting off a source of funding to Al Shabaab. In 2018, the UN Monitoring Group reported a 25% drop in charcoal production and a complete halt of exports to Gulf States. 

While this represents a major success, ongoing advocacy is needed to maintain these results and Somalis who have lost jobs in the shrinking charcoal industry need help to find new ways to earn a living. 

At the same time, although domestic charcoal use is declining, production for local markets continues to cause deforestation, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity and a rise in CO2 levels, while indoor air pollution from cooking and boiling water with charcoal still causes thousands of deaths each year, particularly among women. 


The Sustainable Charcoal Reduction and Alternative Livelihoods project aims to reduce demand for charcoal while also providing Somalis with alternative options for clean energy and sustainable livelihoods. 

The first major component of the project is to build the capacity of those in power, and to build awareness of the environmental issues associated with charcoal production. This has been taking place on a local, national and regional level, including working to influence and develop policy, and engaging local and international media. 

It’s been particularly important to engage with other countries in the region, as well as the traditional export markets for Somali charcoal, such as the Gulf States, to make them aware of the various problems associated with charcoal exported from Somalia and common approaches used by charcoal exporters to circumvent the export ban, such as using fake documents to hide the fact that charcoal originates in Somalia. Within Somalia, the project has worked with all levels of government, supporting the development of a charcoal policy, but also strengthening the capacity of Somalia’s sub-federal states, which often lack even the most basic resources, such as stationery and internet access. The project has also worked with journalists, training them to write about the negative impacts of the charcoal industry, and supporting the publication of their stories, to raise wider awareness.

The second component is to reduce demand for charcoal inside Somalia. The project has been doing this through producing and distributing fuel-efficient stoves. Beyond individual households, the project has been promoting investment in liquid gas petroleum and the first biogas project in Mogadishu.

The final component of the project, led by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is promoting alternative livelihoods, such as livestock raising, horticulture, and bee-keeping, for those currently working in charcoal production.


• The first ever multilateral meeting was held between the Federal Republic of Somalia, neighbouring countries and the Gulf States to support the Somalia charcoal ban

• The first draft of the cross-governmental National Charcoal Policy is now ready for approval and validation

• Somali journalists from television and radio have been trained on environmental reporting

• Over 6,000 households have switched to energy-efficient stoves, including 700 fuel-efficient stoves distributed to internally displaced people in Puntland

• A one-house, one-tree campaign has been carried out across Puntland, with over 3,000 new trees planted in Bosaso alone

• Over 5,000 people – nearly half of them women – from across Somalia have been made aware of the negative impacts of charcoal production, and trained in positive and sustainable agricultural practices


The Sustainable Charcoal Reduction and Alternative Livelihoods is a joint UN project, with three agencies working together to combine their expertise and resources on one shared goal. Each agency is responsible for the following:

UNDP: Capacity building and strengthening of Somalia’s institutions 

UNEP: Working with the Gulf States to halt charcoal imports from Somalia

FAO: Support to alternative livelihood pathways



Project start date:

January 2016

Estimated end date:

March 2022

Focus area:

  • eradicate poverty in all its forms and dimensions
  • Project office:

    UNDP in Somalia

    Implementing partner:

    United Nations Development Programme

    Full project information  

    Funding Support by

    Donor name

  • United Nations Development Pro
  • United Nations Multi Partner Trust Fund For Somalia
  • Ministerio De Energia
  • Amount contributed


    Delivery in previous fiscal year

    2022 $33,537

    2021 $672,799

    2020 $770,107

    2019 $1,121,848

    2018 $1,114,087

    2017 $1,037,416

    2016 $285,498

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