Charcoal production in the Argentine Dry Chaco: Where, how and who?

Published in Energy for Sustainable Development, v. 27:46-53

Rueda, C.V., Baldi, G., Gasparri, I. and Jobbágy, E.G.

Publication year 2015
  • Grupo de Estudios Ambientales Instituto de Matemática Aplicada San Luís (IMASL), Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones y Técnicas (CONICET) and Universidad Nacional de San Luís (UNSL), Av. Ejército de los Andes 950, CPD5700HHW San Luís, Argentina
  • Instituto de Silvicultura y Manejo de Bosques (INSIMA), Facultad de Ciencias Forestales, Universidad Nacional de Santiago del Estero (UNSE), Av. Belgrano (S) 1912, CPG4200ABT Santiago del Estero, Argentina
  • Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones y Técnicas (CONICET), Instituto de Ecología Regional, Facultad de Ciencias Naturales e Instituto Miguel Lillo and Universidad Nacional de Tucumán, CC34, 4107 Yerba Buena, Tucumán, Argentina
IAI Program


IAI Project CRN3095


•We explored charcoal production in Argentine Dry Chaco, geographical distribution, production systems, and social context.

•We based on remote sensing (kiln detection); land cover surrounding, population, poverty, and infrastructure (roads) data.

•Individual or small groups prevail over the regions, frequently associated with a forest land cover.


Charcoal production has been widespread in the past and is still common where poor societies and dry forests coexist. For the Dry Chaco in South America, one of the largest remaining dry forests of the world, we describe the geographical distribution, type of production systems, environmental and social context and output of charcoal based on remote sensing (charcoal kiln detection) together with existing environmental (forest cover/biomass), social (population density, poverty), and infrastructure (roads) data. While most of the region has low kiln densities (< 1 kiln every 1000 km2), foci of higher production were found in the north of Santiago del Estero and the west of Chaco provinces (> 1 kiln every 5 km2). Individual or small groups (up to three units) prevail over the regions (58.2% of all kiln sites), frequently associated with a forest land cover. Large groups of kilns (&ge 12 units, 15.5% of all kilns) were associated with land cleared for cultivation. For a subset of kiln sites for which forest biomass data was available, we found that typical kiln sites (1&ndash3 kilns) had half of the average biomass of the region within a radius of 125 m. Although charcoal production in the whole region has been stable for 50 years, a strong redistribution from richer to poorer provinces has taken place. At the county level, kiln density and charcoal production records showed a linear association that suggests an average output of 11 tons of charcoal per year per kiln. Comparing counties with high vs. low charcoal production with similarly high forest cover, the first had higher population density and poverty levels. Today small scale charcoal production by poor rural people represents the only significant use of forests products that provides some market incentive for their preservation. However this situation is associated with marginal social conditions, inefficient production, and forest degradation. Developing charcoal production under environmentally and socially virtuous conditions should be seen as a unique opportunity and an urgent challenge in the face of the fast deforestation of dry forests.