By: Ugochukwu Olaedo
Some Firewood sellers in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have requested the Federal Government to provide them with alternative sources of livelihood in order to take care of their families.
They made the appeal during separate interviews on Tuesday in Abuja.
The traders expressed disappointments with the downturn in their businesses as a result of the switch to the use of cooking gas and other alternatives for cooking by many of their customers.
“Our business is attracting low patronage. We want the government to provide us with vocational training so that we can embrace other businesses to earn a living,’’ they said.
According to them, the government could assist by providing vocational training in tailoring, hairdressing, and assisting them with soft loans for their new trade.
Mrs Janet Ayuba, a firewood seller who lives in Sabon Lugbe, a suburb in the FCT, said that she had been in the business for two decades.
According to her, the business is very stressful, sourcing the firewood in the bush and transporting them to the point of sale to the customers is not easy.
She said that the cost of the wood depends on the size, bargaining power and relationship over time that the firewood seller had with the farmers, the real owners of the woods.
“Usually, when we agree on a particular amount to buy the wood, we still pay people that will cut the trees down and break them into pieces of firewood.
“ Some of the woods are very heavy and sometimes have not dried, which is bulky for us to carry as we do not have means of carrying them to where we sell them.
“As far back as 15, 20 years ago, Gbagyi women used to carry the wood back home on their shoulders.
“However, we now pay truck drivers to convey the wood to our homes,’’ she explained.
Ayuba further said that when the wood was carried home they were sprinkled with a mixture of ashes and water in order to preserve and protect them from insects or other pests.
She also noted that wood preserved with ashes could stay fresh for as long as five years.
She said that she made a profit of N20,000 to N25,000 a month and could make double that during festive periods or when her customers bought in large quantities.
She said that the advent of other alternatives for cooking, such as gas cooker, kerosene and charcoal stoves, electric burners had led to the decline in their business and sales.
“There are days we do not sell at all, and these days the places we go to get wood are far from our homes, ultimately making us pay more for transport thereby reducing our gains drastically.
“The expenses involved before selling coupled with the low patronage have made me in recent times be thinking of diversifying. The issue of raising capital has been my major problem and concern and that is why I am calling on the government to intervene and make available soft loans to encouraging us a little,’’ she added.
Mrs Abigail Hamza, another firewood seller, who lives in Gwagwalada, narrated similar ordeal and challenges she had faced in the business.
Hamza said selling of firewood was part of her heritage and culture as a Gbagyi native.
She added that she grew up to meet her family and many older women in the community involved in the business which was usually passed down from one generation to another.
“When you look at the Gabgyi emblem you will see a portrait of a woman carrying calabash and wood on her shoulder; this shows that this is a culture and lifestyle that started since time immemorial.
Hamza also called on government to support local firewood sellers by empowering them with land for farming and giving them capital to enable them to start up small businesses.
Similarly, Mary Dazzer, a student who lives in Orozo who is also into selling firewood, said there were better species of firewood to hew due to their characteristic of holding fire for long after stoking.
“There are special woods we buy and sell. The Gbagyi refer to them as: Tawe’,Natae’, Bagba’,Chileye’ and `Machugeye’. They are the best woods to sell because they dry easily and are “highly inflammable’’, but sadly very expensive.’’
Dazzer added that her family and she had achieved a lot through selling firewood until the recent low patronage because many people had opted to utilising other alternatives to cook their food.
“We have achieved a lot through our wood selling. I used it to provide food for the family, clothe my siblings and myself, pay school fees also built the house we are living in.
“But technology has made life easier for people now that they prefer to use Kerosene, charcoal stoves, electric burner, cooker and cooking gas. There are even industrial burners that use gas for people who do large scale cooking such as schools, hotels and restaurants.
“Whenever we ask our customers why we do not see them again, they will be quick to tell you that they have discovered other easier and cheaper ways. The say that such new methods leave them without the smell and stains of firewood on their ceilings and clothes.
“We need government to help us as our source of livelihood is slowly dying; we do not know what will become our fate in the next two to three years,” she said.
Meanwhile, the federal government had initiated a clean energy programme to ensure that households replaced fossil fuel with renewable energy to curtail pollution and conserve the environment. It is one of the measures adopted to reduce climate change impacts in the country.