Fuelwood - in Search of Alternatives
By Svend Erik Ladefoged, INforSE Secretariat
During a recent visit to Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Uganda, I had
firsthand experience of the fuelwood crisis afflicting many rural
families. In many places, they are rapidly reaching the stage
when there will not be enough wood for cooking purposes and for
space heating. Why is this?
Oil Crisis & Biomass fuels
First, until the late 1970s, nobody considered the energy
consumption of the rural populations. At the time of the
independence of the countries, energy planning was of relatively
minor concern. The interest therefore centred around electricity,
oil, gas, and coal. The large rural populations did not figure
in these considerations.
It was not until the shocks of the oil price increases in 1973-74
and again in 1978-80 that attention was paid to the <%-2>energy
supply and consumption of rural populations. New studies found
that the major supply of energy in these countries came from
biomass fuels in the form of wood and charcoal.
Second, one of the myths is that it is mainly the rural
populations' use of wood for cooking purposes that has caused the
shortages now experienced. Several studies have found that the
reasons for the depletion of wood stocks, particularly in rural
areas, have to be found in (1) cutting of trees in order to
extend agricultural lands, (2) increase in the population, (3)
rapid urbanisation, and the subsequent increased needs of the
poor masses in the cities for wood charcoal for cooking (4)
increased prices of modern fuels. To remedy the situation,
agroforestry, intercropping, and the establishment of wood belts
around the cities were tried, but have met with disappointing
At the same time, agricultural wastes are often lying about
without being used. To mention a few: husks from rice and coffee,
maize cobs, stems from different plants etc., and sawdust from
sawmills. Many of these wastes may be briquetted or carbonised
and used either as fodder for animals (some types of agricultural
wastes are already being used in this way), or as alternatives
for wood or wood charcoal. In this way the felling of trees in
rural areas could be significantly reduced.
Charcoal from Husks
"Black Power", a small Ugandan company, has spent the last 10
years developing charcoal made from coffee husks. Their simple,
homemade machinery shows that it is possible to produce
alternatives to wood charcoal inexpensively.
Another alternative is dried grass burned in a simple, cheap
stove resembling the well known improved charcoal stove (jiko).
Last, in many places sawdust is burned off as a waste product.
But, sawdust is perfectly suitable for burning in simple stoves.
Judging by conditions in places in Tanzania and Uganda, it would
appear that the common feature of these types of alternative
fuels is that they are as efficient as or better than wood
Furthermore, the indications were that financially these fuels
compare well with wood charcoal, when their efficiency is taken
in to consideration. Economically, a shift to alternatives or
even substitutes for wood or charcoal made from wood will be hard
hitting on the many rural households that produce charcoal for
the cities. To offset the impact, these families may instead
sell/export "processed" (made into briquettes or charcoal)
agricultural waste products to the cities.
Such solutions need to be further investigated and developed. The
aims should be to (1) assure that competitive uses of the
agricultural wastes are avoided within the rural farming
community, i.e., that these wastes are not already being used by
the farmers for other purposes, and (2) identify other types of
waste products that can be used as substitute fuels, particularly
to wood charcoal. Last, but not least, the economical feasibility
needs to be analysed.