For many rural industries of developing countries, energy in the form of heat from wood is one of the most important elements in the production process. The amount of fuelwood used by these industries, though small compared to the domestic sector, is significant and there is a need to consider rural industrial wood consumption as a cause of deforestation. Increasing shortages of wood fuels are, in turn, becoming a danger to these rural industries and to rural development as a whole.
Relatively little data on actual wood consumption of most of these industries is available, as many are unrecorded, being in the informal sector, and the social costs of their use of fuelwood have only recently been recognized.
These rural processing activities using wood fuels can be classified into the following categories: cottage activities, village enterprises and rural industries. This can be carried out according to the following criteria: location, ownership, labour source and operation, complexity of technology used, scale of production, regularity of production, formality of organization, flexibility of energy source and use.
Criteria for assessing the significance of these processing activities using fuelwood are: fuelwood consumption, employment and income generation, food production and security, nutrition and health and impact on the environment.
Despite lack of data on the above listed criteria in general, and on fuelwood consumption in particular, a number of industries have been identified which rely on wood fuels to a greater or a lesser extent. These include lime, rubber, brick, pottery, tobacco, coconut, coffee, tea and cocoa industries and a high number of food processing activities at cottage and/or village level.
The economic significance of fuelwood to different rural industries varies according to type and level of activity, and in some cases, as in the lime, brick and tile production, the fuelwood costs can amount to over 50 % of the product value. In these cases, the scope for intervention is quite obvious, while in others, where the fuel costs account for as little as one percent of total costs, the scope for intervention is less clear, but improvements in fuel efficiency may nonetheless be financially attractive, as producers face fixed labour and raw material costs and unstable international prices.
Despite the increasing cost of fuelwood in most countries, it is still, in general, considerably cheaper than all other sources of energy, except for agricultural residues or cheap fossil coal, lignite and peat, where these are locally available.
The thermal efficiencies of the wood energy conversion systems in use are, in general, very low, and there is considerable scope for interventions to improve the operation of these rural industries and, in particular, the efficiency of fuel use. Areas for technical improvements are, for example, improved fuel drying and handling, improvement of combustion systems and their control, maintenance, insulation, waste heat recovery and dissemination of new energy conversion technologies.
A lack of awareness on the importance of wood energy for rural industries and other processing activities has been recognized both a international and national levels. Therefore, coordinated efforts and actions should be carried out in order to modify the present situation, in which international organizations, as FAO, should play an active part. One of the most important activities is to collect information in a systematic way to demonstrate the significance of these rural industries and to give strong support to the thorough mobilization of national institutes and village organizations.
In order to encourage the involvement of national institutions the following modes of support should be provided: technical and economical assistance to collect information; support for the implementation of demonstration projects; strengthening of institutions; support for research and development activities; extension of networks and assistance in planning of projects; organization of training workshops; and distribution of available information and knowhow in the form of technical documents and manuals.