In most developing countries, woodfuels (fuelwood and charcoal) are the main product derived from forests and trees outside forests (TOF). Many people assume that fuelwood collection is a major cause of deforestation. FAO has realized that in order to formulate appropriate forest policies, it is vital to understand how, where and how much woodfuels are produced, traded and utilized.
Despite the important role that woodfuels play in meeting the energy needs of households, industries and enterprises, adequate information on woodfuels is scarce in most developing countries. Data focusing mostly on household consumption are rarely disaggregated and often unreliable. This makes its difficult to plan woodfuels use and assess its environmental and socio-economic impact. In response to this shortcoming, FAO is collecting qualitative and quantitative information on the socio-economic importance and environmental impact of woodfuels use, production and trade in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Near East. This report contains an overview of the wood energy situation in ten Asian countries and of recent developments in wood energy consumption and production statistics in these countries. The need for a more comprehensive approach to developing wood energy databases is highlighted in the report.
In the past, wood energy information was confined mainly to data on fuelwood consumption for household cooking and excluded other woodfuels-using sectors, as well as the use of alternative fuels. This narrow approach has broadened in recent years. Many countries have integrated fuelwood consumption data into overall energy statistics and “energy balance tables” (e.g. Cambodia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam). Historical consumption data for households are available now, extrapolated from projection studies. Total national consumption estimates are provided for various non-household sectors, such as industries, service establishments, commercial enterprises, and institutions. Some countries also provide data by administrative divisions, rural and urban areas, for different household income classes, agro-ecological regions and types of end-use.
Wood energy consumption data still have limitations, particularly when used for energy demand projections, policy analyses and programme formulation and evaluation. Because of cost and time constraints few countries conduct regular national-level energy consumption surveys. As a result, many national-level time series data are generated (using extrapolation/estimation techniques) on the basis of one detailed national survey and/or local sample surveys and provide an incomplete and at times misleading picture of the actual situation. Due to different data collection techniques, it is difficult to make comparisons among studies and countries.
Current consumption statistics remain deficient. In a number of countries, non-household users are not included, most notably the informal enterprise sector, although it is an ubiquitous user of woodfuels. Data on household and service sectors include only cooking applications and exclude other uses such as space heating. Usually, diverse factors such as urbanization, household income, socio-economic conditions, agro-ecological situation, and availability and affordability of fuels, and their impact on energy use, are not considered in consumption projections. Finally, most countries do not attempt to characterize and estimate fuelwood flows, and do not report on available wood energy conversion technologies and conversion efficiency ratios.
There continues to be a lack of surveys that comprehensively assess the contribution of different sources to total woodfuels supply. Estimating woodfuels supply is more complex than assessing timber supply. In all country reports, it is recognized that the two are not synonymous. Woodfuels supply studies require not only an understanding of forests classification systems, but also a characterization of the management of forests and non-forest areas. Furthermore, it requires an understanding of such factors as land use changes, access to resources, competing wood uses and the availability of logging and wood-processing residues. Most such factors exhibit very location-specific effects, and these make it difficult to extrapolate the results of small-scale surveys.
Woodfuels supply analysis is a “wood balance exercise” that involves assessing all potential supplies and then deducting from the result all projected demand for non-energy uses of wood. No country that participated in this regional study collects all relevant data to estimate all parameters needed for a complete woodfuels supply analysis or wood balance exercise, as defined above.
There is a need to propagate further the concepts of “wood balance” and develop, on this basis, a clearer and more easily understood framework for woodfuels supply analysis.
The data contained in the country reports differ markedly from the figures generated by FAO’s Wood Energy Information System (WEIS). For some countries, conflicting statistics exist, although data sources are the same (e.g. India, Pakistan, Philippines, and Sri Lanka). Differences in methods and assumptions used can explain most discrepancies.
Given the limitations of wood energy statistics in most countries, wood energy situation analyses can only be partial and wood energy consumption trends have to be treated with caution. Woodfuels and other biofuels have continued to be an important energy source in all the countries in the region over the last ten years. In Cambodia, Lao PDR, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam, they have remained the dominant energy source. Consumption of wood energy has increased in the 1990s, although not as rapidly as the consumption of other energy sources.
Many traditional industries in rural and urban areas remain dependent on woodfuels. However, the use of woodfuels by these industries is still not captured in official energy consumption statistics, and this results in underestimating the contribution of woodfuels to the economy. A similar situation exists for space heating.
Whether in rural or in urban areas, woodfuels continue to be the major cooking fuel for poor people. In urban areas, the high cost of both fuel and stoves limits the use of kerosene or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Thus, opportunities for combining sustainable wood energy development with poverty alleviation programmes exist and should be exploited.
Changes in land use, especially forest conversion, affect the supply of woodfuels. However, as non-forest lands provide a substantial volume of woodfuels, a decrease in forest areas does not always translate into supply shortages. In most countries, users in agricultural areas far from forests collect woodfuels from trees on farms and grazing lands, small woodlots, home gardens, and trees grown along roads, rivers and canals. Logging and wood-processing residues and fuelwood from converting forests are other important sources of woodfuels. These sources are frequently not accounted for in wood energy balances.
The information on wood energy situation analyses contained in the country papers should be treated with caution. Although it is clear that in the foreseeable future millions of rural and urban households, as well as industries and institutions, will continue to rely on woodfuels (and woodfuels will be their most important energy source), the information contained in the supply and demand balances is insufficient for formulating policies, programmes or other forms of intervention for wood energy development. Hence, improving wood energy supply and demand statistics is a key prerequisite for defining appropriate policies and programmes to develop sustainable wood energy systems.
Besides initiatives to reduce fuelwood use, a major component of developing sustainable wood energy systems is to make wood energy use clean, convenient and economical. This means improving both conversion and combustion efficiencies. Sustainable wood energy also means enhancing woodfuels flow systems. An effective wood energy system requires a decentralized programme approach, local planning, and grassroots organizations in implementing interventions to ensure and enhance sustainable woodfuels production systems in both forests and non-forest areas and to develop equitable and viable distribution systems that generate employment and income, especially for poor people.
In addition to modernizing technologies and improving efficiencies, providing traditional industries and rural-based small and medium-scale enterprises with a steady, inexpensive and sustainable supply of wood energy may help woodfuels users expand production and enhance business viability. Women are often key players in all elements of the woodfuels cycle: production, harvesting, processing, transportation, marketing and utilization. Enhancing wood energy systems would provide opportunities for improving the situation of women and for reducing indoor air pollution from poorly operating woodstoves. Reducing indoor air pollution would have very significant benefits for women and children.
Improving wood energy systems would also help to mitigate climate change by ensuring both the sustainable production of woodfuels and the sequestration of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from woodfuels by the growing trees. These trees can be used again as fuel, thus “closing the wood energy carbon cycle”. Finally, the consumption of woodfuels represents substantial foreign exchange savings for countries importing fuel for cooking, space heating, and process heating.
A comprehensive wood energy system would develop an efficient and long-term market for woodfuels. This would make the commercial production of wood energy viable. Degraded lands may be the primary target areas for growing trees and would provide an environmentally sound land use option. The demand for modern wood energy applications may add to the economic viability of sustainable forest production systems, whether production forests or plantation forests.
Sustainable wood energy systems will be developed only if woodfuel statistics are improved and relevant and up-to-date information is made available to policy makers. This requires training and capacity building in wood/biomass energy planning and related fields, preferably in local languages. It also calls for increased funds and additional staff so that the development and improvement of wood energy databases and information systems, particularly data collection activities, are not viewed as an additional burden by energy and forestry agencies. Enhancing wood energy information means improving techniques for data collection. An “action-oriented data collection” approach should be adopted with the main objective being to support the formulation of sustainable wood energy development policies and programmes.
With regard to present capacities for data collection and analysis, countries in Asia can be classified into four categories. The first category includes China and India, the two largest countries in the region. These two countries currently implement nationwide household energy programmes that include wood energy. Both countries have the most experience and expertise in all aspects of wood energy development in the region.
The second category includes countries that have formulated national energy and forestry policies related to wood and household energy, and/or have initiated related activities, usually not national in scope. A government agency is responsible for the sector, but NGOs and academic institutions might be independently implementing some local activities.
The third category includes countries that have not formulated a policy or national programmes, although officials recognize the importance of wood energy and show interest in supporting initiatives in this area. Local NGOs or academic institutions might be involved in a limited number of activities. There is a need to strengthen capacities (even of the organizations already involved) in data collection, analysis and dissemination.
The fourth category includes countries in which wood energy is viewed as unimportant. Policy makers believe that family incomes are high enough to allow market forces to determine the use of energy sources. They foresee that eventually most people will shift almost completely to fossil fuels and electricity to satisfy energy needs.
An important aspect of understanding wood energy systems is the recognition that situations, problems, solutions and opportunities are highly variable, even within countries. They are determined by such factors as the biomass resource availability and potential of an area, the characteristics of the local economy, socio-economic conditions, demographics, local customs and traditions, institutional arrangements, and prevailing laws and regulations and their enforcement.
Since collecting data at the national level is time consuming and expensive, case studies in selected areas, representative of different situations should be conducted instead. The number of representative areas will depend on the variety of situations identified, and on the resources and time available. Survey areas as large as provinces or states appear ideal for small and medium-sized countries, particularly if the wood energy situation in each province is uniform. If most provinces (states) appear to be heterogeneous, then surveys should focus on smaller units such as districts and towns (including the surrounding rural areas). Where this approach is too cumbersome or costly, a two-step method that combines both approaches is recommended.
Three types of surveys have to be conducted for a comprehensive characterization of local situations. Local wood energy studies may start with a “woodfuels flow survey” that examines urban woodfuel markets and linkages to supply sources in rural areas. The second survey is a site-specific woodfuel supply survey that sheds lights on woodfuels sources. Woodfuels supply surveys consist of wood resource assessments and wood production studies. Wood resource assessments characterize the types of biomass production systems in the identified supply areas, assess woody biomass from those areas, and estimate potential woodfuels supply from those areas. Wood production surveys collect historical data on woodfuels production. The surveys should be conducted by forestry agencies, especially those involved in forest resource assessments.
Complementing the two surveys are sectoral energy consumption surveys for households (rural and urban), industries (traditional and modern), and other enterprises, including commercial and service establishments. The surveys should collect data on consumption of woodfuels as well as alternative fuels, including the factors determining energy consumption. Energy consumption surveys should be implemented by energy agencies in cooperation with statistics offices.
The data collected in different localities should be integrated for the national-level analysis. Extrapolation techniques can be used to apply the results of case studies when conducting parallel desk analyses of other local areas. WISDOM (Woodfuels Integrated Supply/Demand Overview Mapping) is useful for organizing, presenting and integrating the results of the local case studies and the results of the parallel desk analyses. The LEAP (Long-Range Energy Planning) model provides a tool for conducting integration analysis.
The data collected during the surveys need to be stored in an information management system that allows for data analysis and retrieval in different formats. Countries may use tools and techniques such as WISDOM, UWET (Unified Wood Energy Terminology) and WEIS (Wood Energy Information System).
To be useful, wood energy surveys need to be linked to policy formulation. The analysis of the collected data should assist in identifying problems and opportunities, and triggering actions. This is what is meant by “action-oriented data collection”.
At the national level, expertise is needed in data extrapolation techniques to generate relevant information, to organize and conduct surveys at different levels (e.g. national, provincial, town-village areas), and to integrate local results into macro analyses. Expertise is also required to integrate wood energy issues when setting national and sectoral development priorities. At the local level, the capacities for conducting wood energy surveys, extrapolating data, and decentralized local-level planning for site-specific strategies and activities need to be strengthened.
Finally, it is crucial to agree on responsibilities. Forestry agencies should have the expertise to develop and manage the wood energy database, and to formulate and implement policies and programmes related to improving woodfuels supply and flow. Energy agencies should also have the expertise to develop and manage the wood energy database, and to formulate and implement policies and programmes related to woodfuels demand management.