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The wood fuel supply systems for rural processing activities vary from country to country, locally and also according to the type and level of activity, not to forget the most important factor, the available resources.

In most rural areas of the third world countries, fuelwood for domestic use is still free. The increasing cost is absorbed almost totally in extra time required for wood collection, fewer firings to reduce wood consumption, and in reduced cooking time. The cost is, therefore, almost completely borne by women (lost time) and children (poorer nutrition). This is, however, not the case in the rural industrial activities, where the supply of wood fuels is arranged on a more formal and commercial basis.


A high number of cottage and village enterprises are paying for their wood and it is becoming a significant burden to their activities. In Ghana and Sierra Leone, for example, over a quarter of women fish smokers purchase fuelwood, which represents up to 40 % of operating costs, and in Burkina Faso wood accounts for 20 % of production costs for dolo brewing (20).

With steadily decreasing fuelwood resources and increasing fuelwood prices it is likely that fuelwood will be replaced with a lower-grade fuel. There is also evidence that this is already happening in rural cottage and village activities. Thai salt producers have changed from burning wood to burning sawdust in improved stoves. In the Mauadi region of Nigeria, potteries have switched from wood to millet stalks, and some women around Lake Victoria now smoke their fish with donkey dung and sorghum stoves rather that with wood (20).

Some changes are possible, but far from all, rural industries have access to alternative biomass fuels. However, there is a range of fuels, which do not lend themselves to burning without some kind of densification and are, therefore, used intensively only by poorer people, when biomass shortage is extreme. Such potential biofuels are, for example, rice and wheat straw, rice husk and papyrus. If cottage industries would use these, then pressure would to some extent be removed from wood fuel resources, and this could benefit poorer people. The densification technology, however, should be extremely cheap and easy to use to be affordable by this business. This technology has yet to be developed (20).

As the price of fuelwood increases, the planting of trees may also become attractive. For example, farmers in Gujarat and Kenya have been growing trees for building material for some time. In Northern Bangladesh, farms growing tobacco have changed part of their crop to cotton so that the cotton stalks can be burnt to cure the tobacco (21).

Burne (20) notes that there are, however, a number of conflicts and dangers inherent in growing fuel for cottage industries. There is a potential conflict between growing fuel and growing food. Any reduction in food production, especially in Africa, should be avoided at all cost. However, interplanting with crops can avoid this problem, at least partly. More serious, perhaps, is the inability of poorer farmers to bear the investment cost that will not mature for at least five years, even with fast-growing species. This can prevent poorer farmers from participating in cottage industries.

Growing of food or cash crops which have a woody residue may be one option worth considering as happened with tobacco in Bangladesh. Other potential crops could be jute, maize, millet and pidgeon peas.

A further option would be growing staple food crops and briquetting the residues. Hitherto poorer lands could be planted with grasses that could be densified.


The situation of the larger rural industries is a little different. Many manufacturers can obtain regular wood supply at prices well below those paid by the household or rural village industry. The distribution network is well established, and more low income people are being forced to collect and sell wood as an income generating activity. Even as local supplies become scarce, entrepreneurs are able to organize supply from more distant regions.

In Sri Lanka, for example, the fuelwood suppliers to rural industries have been classified as contractors, temporary suppliers, industries themselves, state timber corporation (STC), and others (16). The pattern of fuelwood supply to the rural industries of Sri Lanka is as follows:

1.Contractors40 %
2.Temporary suppliers38 %
3.Rural industries14 %
4.Others6 %
5.STC2 %

Fourty-two percent of the rubberwood to the industries is supplied by contractors, while the corresponding percentage for the fuelwood supplied from national forests is 51 %. The contractors are the main suppliers of fuelwood to the tea (65 %), tobacco (69 %), and coconut (62 %) industries, while the non-regular temporary supply is the major source for the hotel and eating houses (57 %), brick and tile industries (79 %) and bakeries (57 %).

Private holdings and private home gardens account for 46 % of the fuelwood supply sources, while state forests account for only 20 % and government estates for another 20 %. Nanayakkara (16) states that this is an interesting feature, because earlier estimates or guesses were that the state forests provided most of the industrial fuelwood in the country. A favourable aspect of this finding is that the pressure on the use of forest land for fuelwood could be relaxed and forest exploitation by fuelwood cutting curtailed by increased tree planting for fuelwood in private holdings and non-forest areas and by social forestry and forestry extension programmes. Hence, forests could be saved and managed for timber, some fuelwood and other forest production, and for esthetic and environmental benefits and wildlife conservation.

In Sri Lanka it is estimated that about 5 million t of biomass fuel is available from coconut, paddy, tea bushes, cinnamon, etc. This is almost five times the amount of fuelwood consumed annually by the industrial sector. Forest industry residues are also very little utilized. The scenarios for fuelwood demand and availability Sri Lanka indicate that a deficit situation will arise in the country from the year 2001 onward unless accelerated fuelwood planting and biomass production and utilization is planned and started in advance. With intensified, planned sustained management of natural forests, clearings and scrub forest cuttings, the natural forests could continue to be an important source of fuelwood.

Such exact data and statistics on fuelwood resources and supply, as for Sri Lanka, are not available for other countries. In the following, some scattered data from various countries and different rural industries are given.

Koopmans (9) reports on the lime, brick and tile industries of Indonesia that the supply of fuelwood is mostly in the hands of middlemen, who buy the wood from rubber estates, transport, distribute and sell it to the lime factories in cash. Small lime kilns at cottage/village level are often cash strapped and sometimes get credit from the middlemen, but only against a price that is about 5–10% higher than normal. The larger kilns sometimes take care of their own wood supply as quantities used are quite large. Wood comes not only from rubber estates, but also from other sources, such as home gardens, building sites, demolished buildings, forests, etc. The wood consumption is rising faster than the supply and the cost of fuelwood has trebled in about 6 years. In addition to wood, other biomass fuels such as rice husk, coconut husk and shells are used. Agricultural wastes are used as fuel solely in Jawa at a rate of some 16 million t per annum.

Regarding the woodfuels consuming lime industries of Thailand, Chomcharn (10) notes that the major part of the wood fuel supply is still harvested from national reserved forests with and without permission. Some fuelwood is also harvested from private woodlands such as from farmland edges and scattered trees at newly opened farms. So far, there are only limited sources of supply from public and private fuelwood plantations and homestead wood for the lime industry. Fuelwood is transported with six-wheeled trucks or lorries carrying 6–10 m3 of fuelwood per load. The transportation cost is 85–90 B/m3 within 75 km hauling distance, or roughly 35–40% of the sales price at the site, which averages 220 B/m3. Variations in price depend on fuelwood quality (species-mix, size and moisture content), lime production season and financial arrangement between buyers and suppliers.

At a kiln yard fuelwood is stacked for drying and storage. Duration of drying varies depending on factors such as moisture condition, when received, wood species, sizes and season of the year. In practice, fuelwood is kept in the yard for 2–3 months prior to use, to bring moisture down to 15–20% level. However, most lime producers sometimes experienced too short a storing time of less than a month during the production season, which has then forced to burn poorly seasoned wood. On the other hand, a prolonged storing of over a year has also occurred, which results in deterioration of sapwood, bark and the part of fuelwood in contact with the ground.

With present fuelwood prices, Chomcharn considers it improbable that many farmers start growing fuelwood crop to satisfy rural industry alone, unless the price rises or a higher wood productivity is attained. However, he concludes that a farmer can earn a considerable income from a given piece of land through agro-forestry and intercropping practices. Therefore, agro-forestry systems should be reconsidered and strengthened in wood/fuelwood plantation establishments among cash crop farmers. Most of large investors have already obtained 15-year permits issued by the Royal Forest Department of Thailand to use degraded forest reserved land for raising fuelwood trees.

Some of the rural industries, for example rubber, coconut, tea, coffee, cocoa and tobacco industries, have the potential of being more or less self-sufficient in fuelwood supply. This is, for example, the situation in the tea and tobacco growing industries of Malawi. Most of the wood used by the smallholder tea authority comes from 310 hectares of Eucaluptys tree plantations. The wood is purchased or supplied in one meter lengths and then split with a hydraulic splitting machine on site. The split logs are stacked in neat piles and allowed to airdry for several months, after which the moisture content should have come down to approximately 30% (13).

The smallholder tobacco industries of Malawi are also more or less self-sufficient in fuelwood supplies. For example, in 1984–1985, the weight of cured tobacco was 2.3 million kg, grown on 1 194 ha, and it is estimated that 4.48 ha of fuelwood plantations (Eucalypthus grandis) is required for curing 1 ha of tobacco. Hence about 5 350 ha of fuelwood plantations are required for the curing process. By 1985, 4 970 ha were already under plantation (13).

The efforts of the tea and tobacco authorities in afforestation to provide their needs of fuelwood have not been matched by domestic and other industrial sectors. Therefore, national attention is now being focused on planting trees in the area of great need, and the Wood Energy Division of the Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources of Malawi has set up woodlots and nurseries to provide seedlings for the rural population to plant in their gardens. However, such schemes need a lot of encouragement to motivate the people to plant trees, which will take at least 7 years to grow before they can hope to gain any reasonable return.

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