For their daily energy needs more people depend on wood than on any other single energy source. In this respect, wood can still be counted the world's most important fuel. Unhappily, it is also in desperately short supply. While some 2000 million people still use wood for domestic heating and for cooking, the gap between what they need and what they can obtain easily is now large and grows larger every day.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is therefore devoting much attention to the question of obtaining energy from forests. For the first time in the history of organized forestry, providing people in the developing countries with the fuelwood they need has to be included as a major goal of the forestry institutions.
The emphasis on wood for energy need not detract from the other vital functions of forestry. Trees grown for energy can also help restore stability and fertility to the land, increase agricultural production, and improve the quality of rural life - thereby helping to reduce migration to the city. In fact, forests for energy should now be a major part of any rural development programme.
The role which trees can play in easing world energy problems is much broader than is generally realized. Fuelwood and charcoal have, until recently, been regarded simply as subsistence fuels, but it is now clear that they are also fuels of the future.
Fuelwood and charcoal are relatively cheap to produce, compared to fossil fuels, and are derived from a renewable source of energy which can be grown in most countries. Trees offer a range of ecological, agricultural, and social advantages which cannot be paralleled by any other energy source. It is not surprising that today many developed countries are reinvestigating the possibilities of mobilizing more of their forest biomass for energy. In the developing countries, energy plantations may well provide a novel and exciting springboard for development.
This booklet describes both the present problems and the promise which the future holds in the field of energy forestry. There are now more than 30 FAO projects in this field and others are planned. This publication records some of the achievements to date; but, more importantly, it is intended to encourage still greater use of FAO expertise in forestry for energy in the future.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations