Fuel wood scarcity in Africa impacts women’s lives. Can we make a change?

The way back home is becoming long

The way back home is long

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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12 thoughts on “Fuel wood scarcity in Africa impacts women’s lives. Can we make a change?

  1. The main underlying cause of fuel wood scarcity in Africa is due to policy failure to support sustainable supply of energy for cooking to all citizen. In most African countries energy refer to electricity that accounts for less than 10% of the total energy consumed. Efforts are required to support sustainable fuelwood covering supply and demand value chain.

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  2. Agree, it is a problem that needs attention. the final solution from my point of view would be the provision of Gas in reasonable prices for the bulk of household users in bigger villages and for services that consumes most of the wood and charcoal like bricks-making, bread making, etc. Bearing in mind that not all African sub-Saharan countries are able to go big in gas industry, carbon financing can be an option together with Private sector investment in Gas infrastructure.
    Remote locations can also consider bio-gas alternatives which will significantly reduce the dependency on Fuel wood.

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  3. We are trying out woodfuel production based on local species with rural communities neighbouring a large public forest management concern in Malawi. As Anna suggests, most of the species tend to coppice well thus reducing establishment costs. Other attributes are that the species also provide fodder for goats and other livestock and lightweight hence easy to handle/carry/transport to the market. Major challenges are reducing local consumption (as population increases in rural areas often result into increased woodfuel consumption), mass production of pest/ disease free plant materials/propagules to meet the demand, pest and disease monitoring and the need to address, what may be called, the “eucalyptus contamination’ challenge of woodfuel production in many local landscapes which often makes communities reluctant to switch growing promising local woodfuel species.

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    • Victor,Yes there are many community forestry projects with different approaches and with objective of addressing the problem at specific localities. Of course all a forestation and reforestation efforts will contribute in reducing scarcity and rate of deforestation, and it is good to share the experience. In the blog and comments by others, it was emphasized that there is a need for a model at a broader level that consider both the local community needs and the current and future urban centers demands for wood fuels.

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  4. Since 1984 I worked in afforestation and natural forest management projects in Sub Sahara Africa and other continents.
    Every 25 years the same discussion about solutions for fuel wood and energy problems submerge and new concepts rarely emerge.
    What we need is a paradigm shift towards rural and NRM development in which integration as a concept is leading and not the coincided result of ad hoc decisions concerning the necessity to combine agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry, nature conservation, water management and the multitude of activities now engaged in, by too narrowly conceived and focused projects.
    This would even open possibilities for rural based industries and so create labour and diminish rural exodus and other causes for urban slumming and poverty.

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    • Agree for the need for a paradigm shift in which integration is leading. Accordingly, the issue of supplying the growing demand of urban centers in addition to local needs for wood fuels will constitute a major goal in the model. The broader the scale of programs and projects, the more optimum will be the use of land.

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  5. The problem is not new and possibly aggravated by more intensive landuse that occ=upies firmer wood resources. There are technically, besides the many suggestion for better management, alternative non wood sources for producing charcoal, and more efficient methods to produce charcoal from wood or non wood. The eternal problem is: scale, distribution and transport. Many promising technical improvement for pyrolyse etc. are stuck in pilots . Commercial (larger scale) and more efficient production, is not in line with acceptance of something (slightly) different and paying capacity of the consumers. Besides forest management etc. a major (commercial) effort is required, where the economies of sacle can be realised.

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  6. I agreed with you Abdsalam this is a big problem in Africa sub sahra but how can we remedy this problem without destructure the ecosystem ‘ we need to fulfill the needs of people in the same time without cause deforestation.

    Mohammedelhadi .

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    • Yes Mohamed in the long run we have increase forest areas through afforestation and reforestation, but it is urgent to have plans for the immediate needs that may have no or minimum negative impact in ecosystem

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