A cross section of firewoodsellers in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have requested the Federal Government to equip them with alternative skills that can sustain them and their families.
According to a NAN report, they made the appeal in separate interviews on Tuesday in Abuja.
They expressed disappointments with the down turn in their businesses as a result of the switch to 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, government can assist them by providing vocational trainings in tailoring, hairdressing, and assisting them with soft loans for their new trade.
A firewood seller, Janet Ayuba, who lives in Sabon Lugbe, a suburb in the FCT, said she had been in the business for two decades.
According to her, the business is very stressful, sourcing the fire-wood 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 woods were carried home, they were sprinkled with 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 profit of N20,000 to N25,000 a month and could make double of 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 to 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 to 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.
Another wood seller, Abigail Hamza, who lives in Gwagwalada, narrated similar ordeal and challenges she had faced in the business.
Hamza said that selling of firewood was part of her heritage and culture as a Gbagyi native.
She said 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, a student, Mary Dazzer, who lives in Orozo and 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 she and her family 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.
Recall that 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.