5.1. Fuelwood Consumption
Based on the fuelwood consumption study made by the Department of Energy, the national woodfuel (both fuelwood and charcoal) consumption is estimated at 1.48 million tonnes per annum. This figure is significantly less than the earlier estimate made by the MOA (NEMP-E, 1995) which amounts to 2.2 million tonnes annually. The MOA figure may be an overestimate because:
There is rapid switching to non-wood fuels by the population, especially that of the highlands, where around 65% of people live, and most economic activities are concentrated. The alternatives, such as oil-based fuels, dung and agricultural residues have a considerable role in the area. This trend is now slowly penetrating in the rural areas and has consequently contributed to the gradual decline of woodfuel’s importance. For instance, according to a previous estimate, woodfuel contributes around 80% of the total national energy consumption; but in the study made by the Department of Energy (1996), woodfuel was found to contribute only around 68% of the total national energy consumption.
The substitution against wood fuel may be attributed to modernisation, scarcity factors and government policy which rations the supply to deadwood sources.
Although all commercial fuelwood trading in Eritrea should be controlled through licenses, doubts have been expressed concerning the effectiveness of the system. For example, a survey by the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) found that less than 20% of the fuelwood entering Zoba Maekel (i.e. Asmara) during 1995 came from licensed sources (Estimated fuelwood consumption for Zoba Maekel was 57,853 t/y; licensed quantity was 10,467 tonnes). The Ministry of Agriculture restricts licensed fuelwood to deadwood, except in the case of licensed clearing of agricultural concessions. It is widely acknowledged that, rather than extending the search time and area for dead wood, collectors may clandestinely kill off trees. In the case of concessions, some fuelwood marketers have used the device of concessionaire to get around the restriction on live cutting.
The total annual fuelwood off-take from the Western Lowlands, which is the major supplier of fuelwood, for 1995 was estimated at 0.55-0.58 million tones. Based on information obtained from Ministry of Land, Water and Environment (MLWE), about 100,000 tones of fuelwood were supplied in 1995 from land clearances by commercial agricultural concessions, equivalent to approximately 4,000 hectares. Of this total, a high proportion (83-87%) of the annual off-take is consumed locally, and the remainder is used elsewhere, mainly in the major urban centres in the highlands. More than 95% of the total quantity of fuelwood is consumed in the form of pure fuelwood as opposed to charcoal. (Charcoal production in Eritrea is forbidden by low. Only charcoal of by-product of firewood combustion is used within the households for cooking).
The long term sustainable use of the forest resources for fuelwood production would require that annual off-take should not exceed the annual increment of the forest concerned. The area of the natural forests/woodland of the western lowlands is estimated in this study as 3.5 million ha, of which around 60-70% is judged to be accessible. Assuming an average mean annual increment (MAI) of 0.15 t/ha/yr. in mass units for an accessible area of 60% of the total area, the total fuelwood production, on sustainable basis, was estimated at around 0.336 million tones annually.
Table 14: Estimated Quantity of Fuelwood (air-dried) that can be produced on sustainable basis from the Natural Forest/ Woodland of the Western Lowlands
Area in million ha
Yield (t/ha/yr.) 1
Sustained Yield on readily
Grassland/ wooded grassland
Woodland: Closed to Medium closed
1These estimates were adopted from the estimates made by FAO (1983) for Africa, south of the Sahara and the figures are assumed on air-dried basis.
2Accessible yield is calculated on the assumption of 60% accessibility.
At present, however, the Ministry of Agriculture has promulgated a ban on the cutting of live trees. Consequently, only the stock of deadwood may be collected officially from the natural forests and woodlands of Eritrea. Considering the area of forests and woodlands (3.5 million ha), and including agricultural lands, the extent of accessible dead wood collection area is estimated to be 3.69 million hectares. Based on actual field measurements of an average 1.5 t/ha of dead wood, the total existing stock of deadwood in the western lowlands is estimated to be 3.3 to 3.9 million tones.
5.2. Fuelwood Gap
Although the availability of woodfuel is not sufficient in the Western Lowlands at the moment, the situation is compared better to the other parts of the country, particularly in the highlands. These differences in woodfuel situation are manifested in the utilisation of energy sources. In the highlands fuel especially the households, to ensure fuel security have long adapted diversification. However, such fuel diversification strategies are not yet prominent in the Western Lowland region, which implies that the shortage of woodfuel is not such a big problem.
However, this does not mean that the present woodfuel consumption and production systems of the region are fully sustainable. The situation of the woodfuel scarcity is worsening, as can be illustrated by the ever-increasing distance and hardship in collecting fuelwood. Taking the distance and time of fuelwood collection as indicators of the situation of woodfuel scarcity, between year 1960-1991, for instance, the average distance of fuelwood collection in the Western Lowlands has increased from 2.1 to 17.1 km, and the time from 1.2 to 6.3 hours.
This condition has been partly aggravated by the woodfuel dependency of the highlanders in the region. Although the proportion of the transported woodfuel quantities from the region is small at the present, the dependency of the urban centres in the highlands has its impact on the use of the natural forests/woodlands of the region. And the effect of this would be even more serious, in the foreseeable future as a result of the increase in woodfuel demand (both nationally and at local level), on one hand, and ever declining productivity of the natural forests/woodlands, on the other hand.
When the annual fuelwood off-take quantity of 0.55-0.58 million tones is compared with the annual sustainable fuelwood production from the Western Lowlands natural woody vegetation, say 0.336 million t/yr., it is evident that there exists a substantial fuelwood gap of, say, between 0.21 – 0.24 million tones annually, and that the present level of fuelwood off-take from these natural forests/woodlands is not sustainable. Even now, without clearance for agricultural concessions, this gap would be larger by 100,000 tones per year.
If the present fuelwood gap was to be met by over cutting of the standing trees/shrubs from the natural forests/woodlands, then it would require an area varying between 9,100-10,400 ha to be clear-cut each year. This would be incompatible with national policy on environmental protection. If, in accordance with current policy and directives, reliance were placed on filling the fuelwood gap from the stock of deadwood, then this palliative would become exhausted within 15 years period, leaving the fundamental problem of sustainable use unaddressed.
The above conclusions are based on assumptions that:
(i) Present woodfuel consumption levels remain unchanged;
(ii) Accessibility does not alter; and
(iii) productivity of the natural forests/woodlands will remain unchanged.
The availability of dead wood supply for, say the next 15 years up to year 2010, provides a unique opportunity to bring about a fundamental realignment of fuelwood consumption demand with sustainable production levels in the western lowlands. This would require:
The reduction of demand for fuelwood by around 20% (i.e. from 0.75-0.60 t/cap/yr.);
The enhancement of biological productivity by 37% (from 0.15 to 0.21 t/ha/yr.) of
The natural forests/woodlands;
The improved utilisation of the available deadwood stock and live wood increment resource stock – effectively increasing accessibility by 20% to around 80% of the forest resources.
But, if the business as usual scenario is considered, fuelwood consumption may be expected to increase owing to natural population growth of around 3% per year, and the annual woodfuel gap might increase to as much as 0.36 million tonnes by the year 2010. Thus, this is a clear indication that the woodfuel energy crisis is a very serious issue in the country.