In Sub- Saharan Africa (SSA) fuel wood traditionally constitutes the major fuel for domestic use. Women in most of the cases collect “free” fuel wood from the native forests surrounding their village. Scarcity in fuel wood in rural areas is adding more burdens on women, and is driving native use of forests by local communities to be replaced with commercial charcoal production.
The subsistence pattern of fuel wood collection is considered to be in harmony with the ecosystems and cannot be considered a cause of deforestation. Areas of forestland are being decreased mainly through the expansion in commercial use of land for agriculture. FAO Forestry Paper reported that millions of hectares of forestland in Africa are being turned to agriculture every year. Despite the decrease in forest area and consequently the decrease in access of rural communities to fuel wood sources, rural households and the poor in the urban and semi urban sectors continue to depend on biomass fuels for their cooking needs.
Increasing numbers of rural households resort to use charcoal, in face of decrease in access to free fuel wood. Although charcoal is considered to be more efficient and clean compared to fuel wood, the present pattern of charcoal production and marketing is unsustainable and inefficient. Charcoal in most of the cases is produced in large scale by private entrepreneurs, and the involvement of local communities in the process is limited. The pattern of charcoal production is area extensive and exacerbates woodlands lost. Charcoal prices are continuously increasing with the increase in transport distances from production sites.
In other situations, many households in face of fuel wood scarcity resort to the use of a less efficient and more polluting biomass fuels such as agriculture residues and animal dung. The scarcity in fuel wood is resulting in socioeconomic and environmental complications. Women in rural areas are spending more effort and time, more subjected to health hazards, and spending much from income in fuel.
The trends indicate that dependency on wood fuels and total demand for both fuel wood and charcoal will continue to increase in the foreseeable future. Plans will be required to satisfy the increasing inevitable demand. Wood fuels’ planning does not receive the attention it deserves in national and international levels. The paper “Wood- Based Biomass Energy Development for Sub- Saharan Africa” by the World Bank Group Energy Program addressed the issues.
The approach provided can constitute a base for developing of strategies for the wood energy sector. However there is urgent need for planning annual charcoal supplies with the minimum negative impact from existing resource. The issue did not receive enough attention and investigation. In the article “Charcoal from Savanna Woodlands in a REDD Strategy”, published as a chapter in the book “Climate Change and Forest Ecosystems”, we showed that, optimum annual plans for charcoal supplies can contribute to stabilizing charcoal prices and reducing emissions.
Blogpost and picture submitted by Abdelsalam Ahmed Abdelsalam Elfahal (Canada) – aabdelsalam(at)hotmail.com
The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.
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