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A decade of wood energy activities within the Nairobi programme of action


Forest biomass still remains the main source of energy for the poorest sectors of developing countries despite all the efforts of the international community within the framework of the Nairobi Programme of Action (NPA).

The wood energy situation is now better understood after a decade of quite intensive work in this field. However, the political scenario in which the life of the world and the energy situation in particular are evolving looks very different for the decade to come from what it was in the 80's.

The first part of the 80's was characterized by the Iran-Iraq war. At the same time, the "cold war" was the dominant factor of the political scene. Oil prices were high, and there were uncertainties in oil resources and supply, whereas the 90's are starting with relatively low oil prices and abundant oil resources. At the political level, the "cold war" is over and the world is seeking more global cooperation to alleviate the needs and problems of the human beings on the planet.

The NPA has proved to be an excellent framework for the development of activities aimed at tackling the major wood energy problems identified. Most of the problems mentioned in the programme have actually been addressed, and some activities have been undertaken in every one of its specific objectives.

Today, there is no abundance of flourishing energy plantations, nor are there millions of improved cooking stoves, or thousands of gasifiers generating electricity under decentralized units in rural communities; but considerable national and international capabilities have been created and a critical mass of experts have been trained since the NPA.

This situation is in part due to the fact that many of the activities undertaken during the first part of the decade were seriously affected by the reduction of international fossil fuel prices which occurred in the second half of the 80's. Thus, when oil prices started to fall, many of the new and improved fuelwood and charcoal technologies which had been developed became less competitive and were abandoned.

The impact of the wide variety of actions, projects and activities undertaken to improve the wood energy situation in developing countries has been insufficient for the magnitude and the importance of the problems to be solved.

Fuelwood and charcoal are and will remain for the decade to come a major source of energy for developing countries. It is a delicate, complicated and important subject which is part and parcel of the problem of poverty and underdevelopment affecting third world countries.

Wood energy can therefore not be analyzed from an energy or forestry point of view alone. It requires a wider approach in which the solutions should be tailored to cope with the specific needs of the region, country or community involved.

The main achievements within the NPA can be summarized following the main specific areas of action adopted by the programme:

Assessment and planning

The wood energy situation is now better understood thanks to the amount of information and statistics gathered in the last 10 years of continuous operational work. The main protagonists of the wood energy systems, both on the side of supply and demand, are clearly identified and their roles are now better defined than in the past. In addition, forest resources are beginning to be assessed and evaluated in a more systematic way, as prescribed by the NPA.

At the beginning of the 80's, during the "oil crisis", the use of wood fuels by poor people was seen as the cause of deforestation and desertification. It is now recognized that factors other than the fuelwood and charcoal are the chief causes of the deforestation process such as farming, forest fires and industrial use of forests for which it is not always poor people who are responsible. It is also recognized that very often woodfuels are only a by-product, to pay, at least partially, for land clearance operations. Isolated wood energy activities without the proper adjustment of energy or forestry institutions may not therefore be sufficient to tackle the problem of forest destruction.

Unfortunately, the quality of figures and data available for woodfuel production/consumption is too inadequate for the preparation of a detailed sectoral review. The lack of accurate information leads to controversial interpretation of the energy situation in developing countries and hampers the correct identification of solutions to be undertaken. This situation has to be changed in the future.

Considerable progress has been achieved in creating national capabilities. Most of the activities undertaken were focused on strengthening particular areas of work on research, training, education and wood fuel surveys. However, additional efforts are required to create multidisciplinary groups capable of mastering the subject and to incorporate the active participation of NGO's in the planning and implementation of wood energy projects.

Unfortunately, energy policies and planning have not taken due consideration of fuelwood and charcoal aspects and in the cases where they have been incorporated, the actions undertaken and priorities received have not been given the importance they deserve.

Gender analysis and women's participation are other types of subject that have not received the attention required.

Research, development and demonstration

Research on high-yield species and more productive wood energy plantations using indigenous and exotic species is one of the areas which has received a great amount of attention for energy and forest plantations. Today, there is a considerable amount of experience and information in this area of work.

The development of efficient cooking stoves for household use, as well as improved techniques for charcoal making, have also been given considerable attention in the first part of the decade.

Technologies for the use of producer gas as engine fuel for power and electricity generation in rural communities, for the use of ligno-cellulose residues, and for briquette and pellet production, are now, from a technical point of view, well developed. However, the wide dissemination of these technologies is considerably affected by the present low price of fossil fuels.

Transfer, adaptation and application of mature technologies

Activities in tree plantation using extension, agroforestry and community forestry schemes have received great support during the decade. On the contrary, the management of existing forests, as suggested in the NPA, has not received all the assistance required. The experience gained in this field, particularly with agroforestry and community forestry, is relevant and very important for the implementation of future activities.

The dissemination of improved cooking stoves and charcoal production techniques received a great deal of support. Unfortunately, the results achieved have not met expectations and new approaches for the work in this field have to be developed. Activities on health and environmental aspects of using woodfuel in households should be given more attention.

Very little has been done on the utilization of woodfuels for thermal energy in cottage, medium and large-scale industries and enterprises which constitute one of the major sectors for fuelwood and charcoal consumption. It has been realized that the use of wood fuels in these industrial, commercial and public sectors of developing countries is an important area to be stressed in further activities due to the implications for economic (income generation) and social (job creation) aspects of rural areas.

The substitution of fuelwood and charcoal by alternative fuels using New and Renewable Sources of Energy (NRSE) and fossil fuels, which has in the past been promoted in the poorest sectors of urban areas, does not appear to have had any great impact on the solution of fuelwood and charcoal shortages.

Information flows

This area received considerable support in the first part of the 80's but less in the second half. Even where a good number of bulletins and newsletters as well as various cooperative networks, have been established since NPA, it is still an area which offers great potential for development within the framework of TCDC, North-South and South-South cooperation.

Education and training

Many people from developed and developing countries have taken part in a wide variety of meetings and training activities, not all of which have received the required follow up, but enough to create a critical mass of experts able to deal with wood energy matters. Of course, it is an area which still deserves more attention and efforts for its further development.

Areas for special consideration

Adequate institutional mechanisms at national and international levels were highly recommended in the NPA for the mobilization and coordination of all the resources required for the adoption of sound wood energy policies and their implementation. Unfortunately, the inadequacy of existing institutions has been one of the main constraints in the realization of many wood energy activities. It is now clear that no single institution can cope with wood energy aspects. Considerable work therefore remains to be done in this field.

The Tropical Forests Action Programme (TFAP) constitutes an excellent tool for the sectoral review, assessment and monitoring of wood energy activities. Therefore, a more active participation in TFAP exercises for the identification of wood energy problems and the involvement of different public and private sectors is envisaged to improve the awareness of national and international authorities on fuelwood and charcoal and to develop more coordinated action.

The Committee for the Development and Utilization of NRSE which was created to guide and monitor the implementation of the NPA, even though it has had an active role during the decade, has proved to be insufficient to achieve the goals set by the Nairobi Conference. Therefore, an ad hoc "Working Group" on Wood Energy is essential within the Committee for the Development and Utilization of NRSE to provide inter-agency coordination, interdisciplinary and cross sectoral programmes and to monitor progress on wood energy matters.


Wood fuels will remain the main source of energy for most developing countries for the coming decade. Furthermore, taking into consideration the environmental concern raised by the international community on unbalanced CO2 emission from the massive combustion of fossil fuels, forest biomass is again called upon to play an important role in reducing the greenhouse effect and acid rain for developed countries.

It is under these two aspects: as an energy source in the poorest sectors of developing countries and as a sound environmental source of energy to fight against greenhouse and acid rain effects in developed countries that forest biomass has to be developed in the future.

Consequently, the MAIN OBJECTIVES of the NEW PROGRAMME OF ACTION FOR WOOD ENERGY to be initiated are:

a) to promote concerted action by the international community to assist developing countries in their energy transition, in which their forest biomass plays a key role in fostering their economic development and improving the welfare of their populations.

b) to develop sustainable wood energy systems for developed and developing countries to meet the energy needs of the communities as a way of reducing the unbalanced emission of CO2 and so fight greenhouse and acid rain effects.

The POLICY AREAS for concerted action in the future can be categorized according to the NPA scheme which is still valid.

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