In most developing countries, woodfuels (fuelwood and charcoal) are the main forest products derived from forests and trees outside forests. In order to develop appropriate policies, it is vital to understand how woodfuels are produced, traded and utilized. This in turn requires a reliable database. The study Wood energy information analysis in Asia was undertaken to collect data and to assess the status of woodfuels information systems in selected developing countries of Asia. Analyses of the socio-economic importance and ecological impact of woodfuels production, utilization and trade were also undertaken. Finally, organizational and institutional issues related to improving capacities for wood energy information systems were addressed.
The study was based on country studies conducted by local consultants in ten countries, namely Cambodia, India, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam.
Many consider wood energy or woodfuels use to be a problem. Woodfuels are seen as a traditional energy source – a dirty and unsustainable fuel that causes deforestation, is associated with poverty, backwardness and rural underdevelopment – that needs to be phased out (a policy adopted by some countries). But woodfuels are widely used and contribute significantly to current energy supply in the region. Given expected socio-economic development trends in the developing countries in Asia, it is difficult to see a significant reduction in woodfuels demand in the foreseeable future.
Few recognize the potential of transforming traditional wood energy systems into a sustainable wood energy programme for developing countries. Inadequate wood energy data and information (i.e. either lack of data or unreliable data, or both) have led to the erroneous formulation of wood energy situations and problems, and thus the creation of many misconceptions about wood energy.
Improved studies on woodfuels supply and consumption and recent research on the environmental impacts of woodfuels use are leading to a more positive view of the role of wood energy. Woodfuels production can be sustainable, creating both economic and environmental benefits. Traditional woodfuels applications can be modernized, i.e. made non-polluting, clean, convenient, efficient and economical. Woodfuels uses can expand beyond households and traditional enterprises to include modern applications in industries and commercial establishments, including power generation. Transforming traditional wood energy systems through sustainable programmes presents economic, social and environmental opportunities for countries in Asia.
The results of this study show that wood energy data and information have improved for countries covered by this study. They also show an improved understanding of wood energy issues among government officials and others. These improvements can be attributed to the capacity building efforts undertaken in the last decade by FAO, through its Regional Wood Energy Development Programme. However, many data gaps continue to exist and much remains to be accomplished if a comprehensive and up-to-date database useful for defining policies and formulating development plans and intervention programmes is to be created. Capacity building efforts have to be continued, but they should be in database improvement integrated with programme implementation, as this approach provides concrete results and shows the direct impacts of improving wood energy data and information.
Many national policy-making bodies, international development agencies, donor organizations, international and national NGOs and the emerging renewable energy industry do not yet see wood energy from the perspective outlined above. Thus, very few have made efforts to put wood energy at the forefront of sustainable bioenergy programmes. There is a need to deepen understanding and develop a wide interest in wood energy. It is hoped that this study will be able to help in these tasks and, at the same time, encourage countries in Asia to adopt a pro-active approach to sustainable wood energy development.