5. FORESEEABLE TRENDS IN WOODFUEL
Considering all facts and figures presented by various authors and the actual obtaining situation on the ground, production of woodfuel in terms of harvesting and/or collection for firewood and conversion into charcoal will continue to rise in almost all Provinces of the country as people struggle to earn a living whilst meeting their daily energy needs. However, in terms of the wood stock resource base, the country is expected to continue losing much of its forest cover and unless measures are taken to reverse current trends, most forest ecosystems will be decimated of the wood resources within the not so distant future. This may sound like a far fetched occurrence, but all factors considered, it would be foolhardy for us to assume that we will continue to enjoy the abundant wood resources the country ‘presumably’ has, without replenishing them.
The wood stock balance that has been envisaged to be achieved through interventions suggested by the ZFAP is still mostly on paper, four (4) years after carrying out the surveys that led to such conclusions. It is, therefore, only prudent that the interventions suggested by the ZFAP (1995 - 97) and those by various authors, are given the due and urgent attention and resources required, or else Zambians should starting preparing for calamities that come with deforestation and the eventual desertification. This paper has, therefore strived to highlight a number of pertinent suggestions that should, as a matter of urgency, be attended to if the dream of meeting energy needs through woodfuel is to be realised by many woodfuel dependent Zambians.
5.2. Demand and Consumption
The demand for woodfuel is expected to continue rising as long as cheaper alternative and renewable energy sources are not promoted and made available to the end-users. Current demand levels if unchecked will result in the eventual denudation of most forest areas (especially in urban areas) which, as a matter of consequence will culminate in zero demand for woodfuel because the resource base would be exhausted. Imports of woodfuel from rural to urban areas may fill-up the demand balance in wood deficit areas, but only for a definite period of time. This is so because the forests in rural areas where the woodfuel is coming from are not being managed for regeneration, but are constantly being cut for agricultural expansion, new settlements and charcoal production to supply both rural and urban centres. This will all result in a national ‘catastrophe’ which will plunge the country into a complete malaise. Demand, therefore, will only be satisfied with sustainable and increasing woodfuel supplies, which are a factor of production.
Consumption like demand is expected to continue rising as populations in most areas continue to increase due to in-migration (from rural to urban), high birth rates and reduced child mortality (assuming that the AIDS scourge will be controlled, together with other fatal diseases which affect the population in the negative). However, current trends have always shown an upward trend in population growth rates irrespective of such adverse factors. Alternative and renewable energy sources available at the moment are too expensive for the majority of Zambians and have not been popularised to the point of adoption. This means that about 90% or even more of the entrant population will continue to add to the already too inflated woodfuel dependent population, as more households continue to fall out of the consumption category for alternative and renewable energy sources due to their increasing procurement prices and prices for electric devices such as stoves and heaters.
This can only suggest one thing, that consumption of woodfuel will continue to rise unless Government comes up with a deliberate policy to make available the alternative and renewable energy sources at affordable investment costs to most consumers. This could be achieved by waiving tax on the raw materials, by offering the commodities at subsidised prices, on credit basis and/or by instituting other such measures that may cushion the burden on most income stripped households.
The above trends, however, will be followed by periods of low woodfuel consumption due to reduced supply. The demand and hence prices for woodfuel are expected to continue rising bearing a negative effect on the production base. People will either switch to other low-grade alternative fuels such as agricultural residues and animal dung (where available), or, will reduce on the number of domestic chores requiring use of woodfuel. This is expected to impact negatively on the nutritional status of most households, as less food would be prepared each day, well below the nutritional requirements of the individual members forming up the household.
Such trends should therefore be counteracted by programmes aimed at promoting cheaper and renewable energy alternatives, improved fuel saving devices and sustainable woodfuel production and/or regeneration.
Supply being a factor of production and demand is expected to exhibit two scenarios: the first being that of initial increase in supply resulting from increased demand, and the second will entail diminishing supply responding to reduced production which is in itself a factor of regeneration. Locally diminished supplies will lead to importation of woodfuel from other areas, but eventually, even such areas will lose their wood stocks and supply on the national scale will thus diminish.
Supply will only be increased, or at least maintained at average levels, if we can as a country promote natural regeneration, enrichment planting and plantation forestry in order to supplement the hard pressed and slow growing indigenous forests in denuded areas and homesteads. This could be achieved through agroforestry, which can also expand the household income base and food security. "It should always be remembered that the woodfuel crisis should not be seen as an isolated problem, but as one among many others which affect the socio-economic status of most poor households". Woodfuel shortages should be seen as an indicator of a more general breakdown in the production of biomass. This is so because local people often see urgent needs such as food, shelter and water as more important than woodfuel. The remedies suggested for the woodfuel crisis i.e. planting more trees specifically for woodfuel, and conserving wood by cooking on improved stoves, do not achieve much because they focus only on one component of the overall development problem. Most biomass projects have thus proved to be both economically and socially disruptive.
Energy production should, therefore, be seen as just one of the products of an integrated biomass system, which also provides food, building materials, fencing, animal feed, medicines, fertilisers and a range of other natural products. To resolve the energy problem, therefore, development efforts will require to find solutions for the range of problems caused by the shortfall in biomass production, as experienced at the local level. There will be need to use the gap theory which attempts to determine the supply of woodfuel and then matching it with consumption rates for the country or region. Many studies conducted have revealed that demand is out-stripping supply and that there is a gap between consumption and production of woodfuel.
Projections using this data (incorporating increasing demand resulting from rising populations), will often predict that the country would be denuded of trees in the not too distant future. Most predictions have however fallen short of their estimations because in most cases, trees are found existing even at the predicted time of denudation. It should therefore be recognised that it is not possible to extrapolate use of woodfuel in a linear fashion and assume woodfuel shortages in this way. People will use less wood by changing their cooking and eating habits and by attempting to switch to other cheaper fuels.
Data on consumption and demand are often based on wood stocks that are most suitable for timber and charcoal production ignoring the aspect of firewood. This data is, therefore, highly unreliable. Figures found in most literature for wood stocks often underestimate actual amounts of wood available. Much of the available data on supply of woodfuel comes from forestry data, which is more concerned with volumetric measurements of timber stocks than fuelwood availability. Such data ignores the fact that much fuelwood does not come from managed forests, but from dead branches and twigs, things obtained from trees growing on farmlands, along river banks and roads, or from communal or privately owned land.
Woodfuel supplied or available from these so-called "trees outside the forest" is difficult to quantify because they are scattered and variable. Data concerning these trees is often a guess, at worst not available at all. Planners, therefore, require good quality data that reports the production of biomass and accounts for its various forms. It will be important, therefore, for us to collect accurate time series data so that flow charts of the production and use of biomass can be constructed. Collection of data on availability of biomass and the uses to which it is put should be on going.
Trade in woodfuel will continue to increase as long as current unemployment levels continue to rise and sources of income continue to dwindle. The issue of forests being considered common property resources and/or ‘gifts’ from God, makes them more vulnerable for exploitation as a ‘cheaper’ raw material base. People do this precluding the importance of forests as a sure foundation for national development. Since people have no capital to venture into other businesses, trade in woodfuel offers a business opportunity with almost zero capital investment. Unless people are educated on the true value of forests and other income generating ventures promoted, such trends coupled with serious inadequacies in supervision and control of exploitation by the Forestry Department, will mean increased trade in woodfuel which will rank among the top income generating activities. This trade, however, will not be sustainable in the long run as wood stocks diminish and as more people join into the trade.
To reduce on trade in woodfuel, there will be need for a strong policy that will promote other income generating ventures within the forest ecosystem and also invigorate agricultural productivity. Promotion of NWFP is, therefore, key in this regard because of the absolute potential of NWFP to expand the income base to levels where households can even afford to invest in other energy sources. Trees in an Agroforestry system will also offer another revenue source, whilst improving the threshold and/or nutrient base of the land for increased agricultural productivity.