Forest area (tree cover > 10% ):
Main trees species:
3.5 M ha
Pine, larch, spruce
12,000 tons / year
20,981 tonnes / year
Charcoal is produced from temperate tree species (eg. Birch, pine, alder…). In Latvia, about 50% of forests belong to the state and 50% to private owners. Forestry in the country follows sustainable forest management criteria, which are well controlled. However, in recent years increased pressure on forests are observed due to an increasing demand from the biomass sector.
Forest land covers 54% of Latvia. Charcoal producers use lower qaulity wood but are in competition with biomass companies who are subsidised by the EU. This in turn increases the pressure on forests. EF is verifying that the wood that enters your product does not come from unsustainably managed forests.
Allthough many baltic public forests are FSC or PEFC certified, few private forest entities follow forest certification schemes. This makes verification of responsible forest practices in private forests difficult. EF makes a point to verify that only lower quality wood is used and to check the sources on the ground.
Roundwood or sawmill residues are used to produce charcoal (especially alder and birch). The technologies used to make charcoal in Latvia are usually some variation of VMR retorts
Latvia’s charcoal industry has relatively modern and well-functioning production facilities. Although some of these are quite old and inefficient, they remain acceptablle in terms of atmospheric emissions. Adoption of the baltic cuntries into the EU has brought slightly higher income enabling companies to invest in better technologies, as well as adhere to strickter environmental laws. However, there are still many improvements that most charcoal producers could adopt to make their production process more efficient, cleaner and less impactful to their workers’ health. EF strives to give recommendations to companies in order to achieve better production capabilities
Workers’ rights are usually not an issue in Latvia’s charcoal industry (except on rare occasions). Most workers benefit from EU laws that protect them from exploitation. However, health & safety standards can be quite poor, which requires verification.
During most EF field visits, workers’ rights were in place and well enforced in the production factories. Workers received valid contracts and decent pay. However, as the payment is often based on production efficiency, workers sometimes disregard health and safety procedures or equipment in order to work faster. Men usually cut the wood, operate the kilns and production technology while women are usually hired for screening and packing the charcoal. In the Baltics, a higher degree of manual labour is observed compared to other EU countries due to the still developing mechanisation of the sector.
Note: we have noticed no discrimination between sexes in the visited factories (often women are paid more than men due to the strenuous nature of the job).
Generally, charcoal companies in the Baltics produce locally, only some are importing charcoal from surrounding countries like Russia.
The traceability system in Latvia is quite robust when it comes to local production. It is possible to trace the wood back to forest source. The legal framework is well established and the risk of illegal timber is low. Once produced, charcoal is transported to central European stores via trucks that are monitored during transportation.
Nevertheless, Latvia imports charcoal from other countries, which can poses a potential obstacle for full transparency. According to the FAO (2017) Latvia imported 9’290 tonnes of charcoal. Overall, 57% of the domestic production is exported, mainly to central Europe.
Charcoal production in the Baltics is rarely a cause for forest degradation or bad social practices. After several field visits in Latvia, we push for full traceability from production sites back to the forest, for better health and safety measures and for updating existing technologies. We recommend.
The charcoal industry can be a driver for positive social and economic developments in the country. We want to support this development alongside local and European partners, NGOs, FSC to assure traceability within the charcoal industry.