4.1 Strategies for sustainable wood energy development
4.2 Social and economic significance of sustainable wood energy development
4.3 Environmental importance of sustainable wood energy systems
4.4 An unsustainable wood energy development scenario
Wood energy will continue to make an important contribution to the energy, forestry and agriculture sectors. Woodfuels from both forests and non-forest areas will continue to contribute significantly to national energy mixes. This presents both problems and opportunities, and the objectives of sustainable wood energy development are to solve the problems and exploit the opportunities.
Woodfuels will continue to be used for cooking by hundreds of millions of households, particularly poor households, in the foreseeable future. Thus, a major component of sustainable wood energy development will be to improve traditional uses of woodfuels. The objective now should not only be to save fuel, but, more importantly, to make cooking with woodfuels clean, convenient and economical.
Experience from past stoves programmes teaches us that the technical design of the cooking devices and the programme approaches for introducing and disseminating these devices should take account of the current cooking practices and specific economic, social and cultural circumstances of the targeted areas. This again means adopting a decentralized programme approach, local planning and grassroots organizing when formulating and implementing programmes and other interventions.
Traditional enterprises where woodfuels are still used can be encouraged to continue doing so, but use of woodfuels should be improved to increase both conversion and combustion efficiencies and make its use clean and convenient. A shift to woodfuels may then be encouraged to expand use by modern enterprises and other productive sectors of the economy. This should be done with the assurance that there is a steady and economical supply of sustainably produced woodfuels (see 4.1.3 and 4.1.4 below).
These efforts should enhance the operating efficiency of enterprises and their profitability, and as such may be considered a strategy of using clean energy systems that does not contribute to climate change.
In a future scenario, it is possible that the market demand for woodfuels (many users buy their woodfuels from the market) will consist of:
• traditional users applying improved technologies;
• industries and enterprises using modern devices for process heating;
• fuel for power generation; and
• feedstock for production of secondary liquid and gaseous fuels such as producer gas, ethanol or hydrogen.
Part of the effort to assure that there is a steady supply of sustainably produced woodfuels consists of enhancing woodfuels flow systems already existing in urban areas. Expanded and steady commercial demands for woodfuels require an efficient marketing, transportation and distribution system, including harvesting, processing and stockpiling of woodfuels.
The country reports discuss urban woodfuels flow systems, mostly operating in the informal sector. This is because woodfuels production and marketing is considered an illegitimate business activity. As the perception is that woodfuels are harvested unsustainably and illegally from forests, trading and marketing of woodfuels are explicitly prohibited in many countries. Woodfuels marketing goes on however, as enforcing control is difficult and bribes are paid regularly (indeed the regular payment of bribes, a kind of “tax” to producers, indicates profitability & stability of the woodfuels marketing “business”).
Improving woodfuels flow systems starts by validating that woodfuels are sustainably produced. Then, efforts should be initiated to legitimize the business operations of woodfuels producers, transporters and traders. Only after this, will these people be interested and encouraged to improve and expand woodfuels markets.41
All the country reports, except that of the Philippines, show that at the national level, woodfuels supply is in deficit in relation to the estimated consumption. However, data assessment indicates information gaps that should question this conclusion and suggests that more comprehensive wood energy data collection activities are needed. On the other hand, even if a favourable picture occurs on an aggregate national level (such as in the Philippines), there are possibly local areas where there is a supply deficit, leading to environmental distress, such as deforestation and land degradation. Here again, a decentralized approach, local planning and grassroot sorganizing will be necessary to plan and implement intervention strategies to assure and enhance sustainable woodfuels production systems.
Sustainable tree production and management strategies are currently being implemented under various forestry programmes, several of which have integrated woodfuels production. Such strategies should also be implemented in non-forest areas. For a start, the current significant contribution of these sources to woodfuels production should be recognized and properly assessed.
Though they still account for only a small proportion of total woodfuels use, commercial woodfuels systems, when expanded, can contribute to poverty alleviation strategies. Income and employment are generated in producing, harvesting, processing, trading, transporting and retailing of woodfuels, so too in producing and selling stoves and other woodfuels devices. These are direct economic impacts of commercialized woodfuels systems. In general, most of the people involved in the “woodfuels business” are poor rural people, many are landless and a large number, are women.
However, rather than encourage and improve the “business practices” of these “small entrepreneurs”, they are subjected to various forms of constraints, including harassment, because their “woodfuels business” is considered illegal due to the generally mistaken belief that their activities are leading to deforestation. But with proper support and assistance, their “business” can be made sustainable, leading to stable business operations that provide a steady source of income and employment. Since many of the “actors” in woodfuels production and trading are landless rural people – the poorest of the poor – the social benefits derived from legitimizing and improving “woodfuels business” on poverty alleviation could be substantial. Selling fuelwood and charcoal has long been an additional source of cash income for rural people. A long-term stable market demand is an impetus to make the growing of trees for fuel a steady income source. With the effective resolution of land tenure problems and the successful adoption of sustainable forest management policies and strategies, growing trees for fuel can be made a permanent income generating option for landless peasants, indeed a strategy by which sustainable wood energy development can directly help to alleviate poverty.
Fuelwood has been the energy source for many traditional industries, for post-harvest processing, and for other rural-based small and medium-scale enterprises. It provides alternative employment and an alternative source of income to the rural population, and contributes to the diversification of the local economy, thus helping the rural local economy to withstand “shocks” such as harvest failures or natural disasters. In many cases, the use of fuelwood, which is cheap and accessible, by these enterprises, is a key factor in the viability of their businesses.
Assuring them of a steady, cheap and sustainable supply of fuelwood, plus improving and modernizing woodfuels technologies to make fuelwood use efficient, clean, convenient and more economical, may allow them to continue, or even expand their production. The greater the contribution of such enterprises to the local economy, the greater the local growth and development in the rural areas where they are located.
No matter what aspect of the wood energy system is targeted, improving wood energy systems provides opportunities for improving the lot of women. Women are involved in, and are sometimes key players in, all elements of the woodfuels cycle – production, harvesting, processing, transportation, marketing and utilization. Their role exposes them to the various risks involved in the woodfuels cycle – from the backbreaking work in producing, harvesting and transporting woodfuels, to the health hazards in the processing (e.g. charcoal production) and utilization (smoke from cooking) of woodfuels. On the other hand, it provides them with opportunities to earn income from the selling and marketing of woodfuels and from the utilization of woodfuels in various food-related enterprises. Improving wood energy systems provides an opportunity to better the lot of women by removing or lessening the health risks in performing tasks related to producing, supplying and using woodfuels. It also includes enhancing the opportunities by which women can earn income from processing and marketing woodfuels, and using woodfuels in enterprises that they can own and operate.
The consumption of woodfuels represents substantial savings in foreign exchange costs for many of the countries that are importing oil to satisfy energy needs for cooking, space heating, and process heating. Seldom is this macro economic benefit appreciated, since most of the woodfuels used are self-collected and not monetized. The financial gains are not concrete and apparent. There is no actual foreign exchange saved as such and the savings for not importing oil cannot readily be measured.
The fact that the majority of the users are low-income, poor and are in rural areas and that their use of woodfuels has generally remained unaccounted for in economic statistics, add to the “invisibility” of the sector and to the lack of appreciation of its contribution to the national economy. This appears to explain why there is no apparent interest in the potential savings in imported oil that the users might have gained and why such potential savings are consistently undervalued.
As the majority of woodfuels are used for household cooking, there is great concern about the health risks involved, particularly in indoor or enclosed kitchens. Studies undertaken to analyse the composition of the smoke emanating from fuelwood stoves used in the developing countries, provide evidence that emissions from stoves contain carbon-based gases that can cause many types of lung or respiratory ailments, apart from causing immediate irritation of the eyes. All lead to long-term adverse health effects. The studies also confirm that the practice of cooking indoors, or worse, in enclosed kitchens without chimneys, is widespread, and as such, the health problems resulting from indoor air pollution are likely to be extensive.42
Another significant finding is that the introduction of energy-efficient stoves that aimed to save woodfuels, can sometimes exacerbate air pollution from stoves. Although shifting to non-polluting fuels or lesser polluting fuels, such as electricity and LPG is possible, it is not an option in the near term for hundreds of millions of poor families in Asia. Using woodfuels and other biofuels remains the only option for these poor families. Thus, to improve wood energy use, an integrated technical solution of improving efficiency and reducing, if not eliminating, emissions should be developed. This means improving both the energy conversion and combustion efficiencies of stoves. Improved wood stoves that are both efficient and non-polluting should be a key objective in improving wood energy systems.
The use of charcoal is one way to avoid smoke while cooking. This is why it has become a popular cooking fuel in urban areas where cooking is mostly done indoors. Also, since poor urban users generally have only small amounts of cash available to buy fuel, charcoal remains the affordable option even if LPG is readily available. However, pollution (and emission of greenhouse gases) is generated during the production of charcoal. Promoting the use of charcoal, but at the same time improving charcoal production processes can also be another component of improving wood energy systems.
There is now greater awareness of the role of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the use of carbon-based fuels in climate change. Unfortunately, many people readily lump woodfuels with fossil fuels as major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Again, this is due to the prevalent belief that woodfuels are unsustainably produced from forests and lead to deforestation. As such, woodfuels use is seen as adding carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and even helping in the depletion of carbon sinks by being a cause of deforestation.
Improving wood energy systems can help mitigate climate change by ensuring the sustainable production of woodfuels and thus, “closing the wood energy carbon cycle” and ensuring that GHG emissions from woodfuels used are absorbed back into the growing trees that can be harvested and used again for fuel.
The contribution of sustainable woodfuels to mitigating climate change may include the following strategies:
• limiting or preventing current woodfuels users from shifting to fossil fuels (i.e. coal, petroleum fuels, and natural gas);
• encouraging fossil fuels users to shift to woodfuels use; and
• cultivating fuelwood tree production systems as a potential carbon sink.
Promoting and expanding the use of woodfuels builds up a greater market demand for woodfuels, and this may make it viable to grow trees solely for woodfuels use. Wasted and degraded lands may be the primary target areas for such tree growing activities (such as in India), thus providing an environmentally and economically land management option for these lands.
With an expanded and modern market for woodfuels developed, and its long term existence assured, harvesting of woodfuels from production and plantation forests can play a more significant role in supplying the increasing amount of wood resources needed. The demand for modern wood energy applications may provide an additional economic boost for sustainable forest production systems, whether through management of production forests or establishment and maintenance of plantation forests.
The economies of the countries covered by this study may continue to rebound and grow, or they may slow down and even reverse given the sluggish world economic outlook. In both cases, the number of poor people in the region will remain large. In both cases also, most of these people will continue to depend on wood and other biofuels for cooking and other heating needs. This will be a result of the combination of such factors as lack of affordability, lack of access and/or limited market supply of alternative fuels. Not only will these people collect and harvest woodfuels for their own use, but also many will continue, or begin, collecting and harvesting woodfuels to sell them. Many of the buyers are poor people themselves – such as the increasing number of urban poor households – who do not have access to wood supply but have small amounts of money to buy cheaper and smaller volumes of woodfuels, sufficient to satisfy only their daily needs. The buyers also include many small-scale and traditional enterprises trying to continue to operate viably.
With the difficulty of managing forests, common lands and private lands (of absentee owners), and with many poor people driven to eking out a living, it is not difficult to see a scenario where woodfuels use continues to be significant (or even to expand). The supply may increasingly come from unsustainable harvesting from forests, common lands and not-properly secured private lands. This process contributes to land degradation and even deforestation.
The lack of intervention in the sector will also mean continuing to expose women (and children) to the health risks involved in the use of woodfuels. This will add to the health burdens not only of their families, but also to those of the whole community and the country as well, as significant population sizes are affected. Lastly, since the use of woodfuels is possibly becoming more unsustainable, woodfuels use is surely contributing to the carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere.
41 Several urban woodfuels flow
studies conducted by RWEDP in the region showed that most marketed woodfuels
come from sustainable sources such as woodfuels lots and trimmings and off cuts
from commercial tree plantations (for production of pulp and paper, matchstick
production, and wood pallets).
42 See FAO. 2000b.