3.1 Strategies and activities on fuelwood/charcoal
3.2 Comments on strategies and activities
3.3 Problems and constraints in project implementation
In this chapter the activities undertaken by international and national organizations are highlighted in order to give an idea of how the international community behaves when faced with a subject of common concern.
With general awareness greatly increased during the preparation period and by the conference itself, and encouraged by the rapid increase of fossil fuel prices after the NPA, there was a sharp increase in activities aimed at improving the fuelwood/charcoal situation in the developing and developed countries.
The justification for this renewed interest in wood energy in the case of developed countries can be found in the need to find alternative sources of energy to reduce the heavy dependence on fossil fuels. In the case of developing countries, the reasons were in some cases completely different. For instance, in the cases of countries situated in arid and semi-arid areas, the justification was the fight against desertification and the alleviation of fuelwood/charcoal needs of poor people living in rural and urban areas.
Nevertheless, apart from any justifications used to launch the activities, the seriousness and gravity of the energy situation faced by the world at that time were more than enough reason to justify all the activities on NRSE in general, and on fuelwood/charcoal in particular.
In this initial enthusiasm, there were a great number of organizations at national and international levels. In this chapter, activities undertaken by the following agencies are summarized: FAO, UNDP/World Bank/ESMAP, EEC and government cooperative programmes of DGIS, USAID and France.
The objectives and strategies established were not always well defined, and if well defined were not always fully respected, due to the innumerable situations involved in the definition of activities to be funded, particularly in executing agencies. In addition, the activities supported did not always follow the interests and needs of recipient countries.
The main actions and activities developed within the NPA by the above mentioned donor and executing agencies can be categorized as follows:
a. forest resources assessment;
b. wood production and supply for fuelwood and charcoal;· Research & Development (R&D) on more productive species;
· increased productivity of existing forests;
· creating new forest resources;
c. reduction of fuelwood/charcoal demand;· improved stoves for households;
· improved charcoal and charcoal briquette production;
· more efficient use of fuelwood/charcoal in rural industries;
d. wood-based power plants;
e. woodfuel markets;
f. finding substitutes for woodfuels.
3.1.1 Forest resources assessment
Assessment of forest resources, in order to estimate sustainable yield and identify deficit areas and areas where forest management and reforestation are urgent and practicable.
Quite a lot has been done in this field. Forest resources, and other woodfuel sources, have been evaluated, including wood from agricultural lands. Comparisons have been made with known and forecast woodfuel demand data, in order to identify deficits, or "woodfuel gaps". There are still many unknowns, however, as well as a need for more accurate data.
Based upon these evaluations, there has been a clear change in the views on the woodfuel crisis over the decade. In the early years, it was frequently claimed that a very severe deficit was developing. For some countries, it was said that because of excessive woodfuel use, the forest stock would disappear completely before the turn of the century, or even earlier. This is no longer the accepted truth, and has definitely not happened as a result of woodfuel use. Even in severely deforested parts of the world, such as the Sahel, woodfuel is still available at reasonable prices not much higher than those of a decade ago.
What has happened is that a better insight has been gained as to where the woodfuel comes from and more realistic assumptions of how the specific woodfuel demand develops, as it becomes more difficult or more expensive to get the fuel.
Five different categories of woodfuel sources are frequently used to classify where the woodfuel comes from:Cutting of "natural" trees specifically for fuelwood and charcoal;
By-product woodfuel from forestry or agriculture;
Woodfuel from dead trees or branches;
Woodfuel from clearing of new agricultural land.
There are large variations between regions, countries and even within countries, as regards the distribution of woodfuel among the five categories. It is, however, now generally believed that in most developing countries the latter three categories by far represent the bulk of the woodfuel supply, with land clearance as the most important single woodfuel source.
This does not mean that there is no link at all between woodfuel and deforestation - certainly some trees are cut down for energy, especially around big cities - but that other human activities, mainly the expansion of agricultural land, are the main causes of the problem. The large scale cutting of forest trees for energy, which would result in the nightmare scenarios of the early 80's, represents only a minor part of the deforestation.
The woodfuel situation is now in general terms seen as less distressing than it appeared to be some five years ago. Having said that, it is nevertheless very important to point out that in areas where a severe shortage has already occurred, whether caused by woodfuel use or agricultural clearance, the physical supply situation can be very difficult for the people concerned. Add poverty, which does not allow any switch to other fuels such as LPG or kerosene, and the results of the market mechanisms may not be acceptable from a humanitarian point of view.
It is also important to keep in mind that the situation is not stable in a longer perspective. With population growth, and the increasing demand for agricultural land, the currently very important supply of woodfuel from agricultural clearance will sooner or later start to decrease substantially, as there will be less and less land left to clear.
The main lesson learnt in this field is that, unless enough woodfuel is produced from other sources, preferably sustainable, either as a forest product or from small woodlots in agricultural areas, or people switch to other fuels, the woodfuel supply will simply not be able to meet demand.
For this reason, among others, it is important to keep collecting data and to carry out assessments and overviews. The competence for doing this has increased quite a lot in the last decade, in developing and developed countries alike.
More information and data on forest resources for fuelwood/charcoal are now available. A better understanding of the wood energy systems in both rural areas and urban sectors have been obtained. However, considering that woodfuel will remain an important source of energy, activities to assess forest resources for woodfuel have to be continued and information improved.
3.1.2 Wood production and supply for fuelwood/charcoal
In the NPA, woodfuel supply matters are mentioned under several headings and constitute one of the areas of main political concern to donor countries and development agencies. Therefore, this area of work is one which has received more support so far in terms of funds and technical assistance.
At a more specific level, the proposed actions can be divided into the following main areas:
a. Research, Development and & Demonstration (R. D&D) on more productive species;
b. increased productivity of existing forests;
c. creating new forest resources.
Research, Development & Demonstration on more productive species
Research on and identification of more productive species for woodfuel production, reforestation and afforestation, particularly in arid, semi-arid and deficit regions.
Information is now available on the productivity of a wide range of tree species, for application in most climatic zones. During the 80's many of these species were tested, on a laboratory scale as well as in full-sized projects. New biological tools are available for plant improvement, but there is also more care in introducing new species.
The general experience has been that farmers in developing countries have been positive towards trying new species, or methods. Too far-reaching changes in traditional ways of working have, however, frequently been rejected. It has also been noted that, for obvious reasons, farmers in dryland areas are more reluctant to plant trees than farmers in more productive areas.
In many cases, the new species have turned out to be less (30-50%) productive than was anticipated from laboratory test results. This has often been related to water availability, but also reflects that what can be achieved in ideal surroundings cannot necessarily be reproduced in real life.
An important lesson from the tests has been that woodfuel is rarely the decisive factor for the farmers when selecting species. Other benefits from the trees, e.g. construction timber or fruit, are much more important. The woodfuel can rarely compete economically with such products.
Another important experience has been that people have definite preferences regarding what kind of wood they want to use for cooking or charcoal making. These preferences can often be linked to the combustion or carbonization characteristics, or the smell of the wood, but are sometimes merely a reflection of traditional values. Whatever the underlying reason, it is very important to take such preferences seriously. Otherwise new species, no matter how productive they are, may prove to be useless in real life.
Considerable work has been done on high-yield species. Productivity has proved to be just one among several factors influencing species selection.
Increased productivity of existing forests
Promote and support forest management, and improved practices and technologies for the conservation and more efficient use of natural forests.
Very little has been done on improved forest management in developing countries. Much could be achieved by fire control, regulated cattle grazing, regulated exploitation etc. It is not quite clear why this area has been neglected, but the reason is probably the heavy emphasis placed on plantations and tree planting during the 80's. Managing an existing forest does not have the same political visibility as planting a new tree.
Only 5% of the world's closed forests are under intensive management and the management of open and closed savanna-type woodland are even lower. Often the use of non-commercial products is based on local people's users rights. Governments did not consider the control of flow of non-commercial products necessary, but with increasing pressure on now scarce resources this is required to ensure sustainable production. Governments should introduce protection measures to avoid indiscriminate exploitation, grazing and fire, and establish optimum rotation for the rational utilization of resources. Governments need to plan well for the allocation of funds and to involve local people to undertake these activities. Replacing existing sources of wood fuel with plantations may not always be the most cost effective approach.
The management of existing forests, particularly of arid and semi-arid areas, has not received the attention of national and international organizations that the subject deserves. It also helps to protect natural ecosystems which, if not conveniently protected, are condemned to disappear.
Improved forest management and conservation have been overlooked. Action is urgently required.
Creating new forest resources
Reforestation, afforestation and energy plantations with tested species, aimed at increasing woodfuel supply and achieving sustainable biomass fuel supply.
Increased fuelwood/charcoal supply through the establishment of new tree plantations using local and high-yield species is the area in developing countries which has received by far the majority of the support originating from donor agencies.
In the first years, specifically allotted large-scale fuelwood plantations, as in the case of Brazil for the steel industry, dominated the scene. Trees planted for fuelwood production would not only be useful to the people, but also be sold at a high enough cost to basically recover the cost for industries.
At the same time, research work was being carried out on species selection, with the objective of finding more productive species for different soils and climatic zones. To some degree, newly selected species were used in full scale plantations.
After some years of experience, it was found that specifically allotted large-scale energy plantations for fuelwood/charcoal were expensive when compared to new fossil fuel prices.
It was also found that new species did not behave quite as well as had been hoped when tested in real life, and also that it was difficult to organize and harmonize woodfuel systems concerning: production, harvesting and use on a large scale.
Thus, the strategy gradually changed. Smaller plantations, with a broader market for the wood produced, became much more popular. Agroforestry, social forestry and community forestry supported by intensive extension activities, were developed for a much wider purpose than woodfuel alone so as to solve the problem.
With the problems originating in the organization of massive plantations and the lack of financial and economic incentives for the establishment of large plantations, improved forest management using community forestry approach has become more attractive.
Many efforts have been concentrated on reforestation and fuelwood plantation, which have not met all the expected objectives at present energy prices. The establishment of forests for wood fuels and other products through community forestry with adequate extension support activities is working well and involves the people in their development.
3.1.3 Reduction of fuelwood and charcoal demand
Research, Development & Demonstration (R, D&D) on improved stoves and their diffusion in households and rural industries/village applications. Improved charcoal making techniques.
There are only a few ways of reducing the demand for fuelwood/charcoal and they are basically: (i) increasing the efficiency with which woodfuel is converted into useful energy, (ii) improving the efficiency of charcoal production, (iii) by using improved wood energy conversion devices (at household and industrial level) and introducing more efficient procedures during the use of energy itself (i.e.: cooking) and (iv) switching to other fuels.
Improved stoves for households
Woodstove projects were thought to be suitable for rural areas where there is almost total dependence on fuelwood and the possibilities of a switch to other fuels are limited. However, experience with many woodstove projects has not borne this out. People prefer the free three stone open fire, a traditional method that is quite convenient and has other advantages such as lighting, heating, etc that were generally neglected in the past.
Wood and charcoal stove projects are therefore more appropriate for urban and pert-urban areas where considerable savings in fuelwood and charcoal can be made by extensive dissemination. The stove types favoured are mud, metal or ceramic. While some successes have been reported in the dissemination of these stoves, there are a number of problems and it is doubtful whether the diffusion can be sustained following the approaches developed so far.
One problem has been the tendency to rate and compare stoves to traditional methods in terms of efficiency, neglecting other equally important technical aspects, especially maximum and minimum power output, i.e., output range and turn-down ratio. A proper reassessment of the many stove types disseminated so far would indicate that the advantages over the traditional methods, if any, are marginal. The constraints of cheap, light, insulating and durable locally-produced ceramic linings continue to be a problem.
Aspects on health/environment resulting from the use of fuelwood/charcoal have not yet received the attention that they deserve. They are important in improving living conditions, health and welfare of poor people.
Improved charcoal and charcoal briquette production
Improvement in charcoal making techniques is a viable option for reducing fuel consumption in urban areas. Lump charcoal production from wood does not need further elaboration as it is well covered elsewhere. Charcoal briquettes made from charcoal fines and biomass, such as wood wastes and crop residues (such as cotton stalk), are currently gaining interest and can make a substantial contribution to the fuelwood balance. By this means, materials that are otherwise wastes, often an environmental nuisance and difficult to handle, are converted into a form suitable for the large urban market. The residues are either briquetted before carbonizing or are carbonized before briquetting. The production of the briquettes needs to be combined with stove development and market activities to ensure acceptability and penetration of the briquettes in the traditional charcoal market.
More efficient use of fuelwood/charcoal in rural industries
Woodfuels in particular, and also charcoal, have traditionally been used in rural industries throughout the developing world, an application that has been well described in an FAO document (FAO, 1988). The industries were classified into the following categories:
- Cottage industry;
- Village industry;
- Rural industry.
They process a wide range of materials usually derived locally, such as food (bread, cakes, sugar, cassava, cooking fats etc.), herbs and spices, drinks and beverages, tobacco, wood, metal, bricks, tiles, pottery, lime, soap and dyes. Fuelwood and charcoal are also used for various services in hotels and restaurants, such as cooking and heating. The characteristics of these industries are described in the FAO report. For industries largely depending on fuelwood, energy costs form a considerable proportion of production costs (typically over 50%). In those, costs or shortages of energy are becoming constraints to economic production.
Rural industries can contribute greatly to rural employment, income, quality of life and other socioeconomic benefits. Unfortunately, appropriate interventions to cater to energy needs of these industries have not yet been properly developed.
The lack of a developed market for rural woodfuel has been a major disincentive. A well-developed rural industry based largely on fuelwood may very well break that bottleneck. For most of the countries that lack fossil fuel resources that option could also be very attractive from the national economic point of view, particularly because of an improvement in the balance of payments. Even countries that have fossil fuel resources usually lack the appropriate efficient distribution systems to provide a regular fuel supply in the rural areas, and thus the use of nearby fuelwood resources can be a viable alternative. In addition, the use of residues has environmental benefits.
Compared to fuelwood, the use of charcoal in industry is relatively limited, though there are examples of large-scale use in the metallurgical (Brazil) and cement industry. Also, the use of activated charcoal is becoming of increased importance in industrial water and air cleaning operations.
3.1.4 Wood-based power plants
Develop and promote fuelwood/charcoal gasifiers for electricity generation, pumping water, etc..
Fuelwood/charcoal gasification was another priority item during the 80's, as popular as items on briquetting or charcoal conversion efficiency. There has been technical progress on gasifiers; it is now reasonably well known how different types of fuels can be gasified and how a gasification system should be designed to minimize operational difficulties.
There are still some difficulties in making gasification systems that can really be said to be appropriate for rural applications in developing countries. The technology is not quite as simple as was thought in the early 80's. In contrast to diesel generators, it is quite easy for the operator to make errors that will disrupt the operation. With the spare part supply problems, that are frequent in many developing countries, it is no wonder that so many of the gasification demonstration projects of the 80's have come to a halt.
The main problem is, however, the economy. Gasification-based power generation is, as a general rule, not economically competitive at the present oil prices with conventional alternatives, both in decentralized and grid-connected systems. The same is mainly true for steam based power generation, the other alternative for making electricity out of fuelwood/charcoal. There are, of course, specific locations, with either very cheap fuelwood/charcoal or very expensive petroleum fuels, where steam or gasification can already compete, but in most places an oil price increase of at least 50% at the international level is necessary to achieve equilibrium.
The reason for this low economic performance is mainly the high capital cost for biomass-based power generating equipment, in comparison with the cheap gensets that can be used to convert diesel oil into electricity. Add the low load factors that are typical of small scale, decentralized systems, and the diesel comes out much better from an economic point of view.
As oil prices increase, it is quite likely that woodfuel-based electricity generation will first become competitive on a fairly large scale, with grid connection. The load factor is much better for bigger base load plants, and the specific cost, in USD/kW, goes down with size.
It is also possible that wood-fuelled power stations will become competitive in developed countries, with good woodfuel resources and high fossil fuel taxes, before they are attractive in developing countries. If CO2, or other environmental taxes, are implemented at a high level in the developed countries, a situation could even arise that makes woodfuel, produced in a sustainable way in developing countries, an interesting commodity for export to large, coastal-based power stations in developed countries.
The NPA says nothing about the use of woodfuel for electricity generation on a large scale. This aspect seems to have been completely overlooked in 1981.
The technology for turning fuelwood/charcoal into electricity does exist, but is not economically competitive at present oil prices.
3.1.5 Woodfuel markets
Woodfuel surveys to establish distribution, control and pricing policies.
It is now clear that woodfuel for rural industries, village applications and household in urban areas are a monetized commodity in a rather informal market.
A sectoral review undertaken by ESMAP and TFAP shows that it is difficult to find accurate information and data concerning the use of fuelwood/charcoal in different sectors of the economy of developing countries.
There have been some studies on woodfuel distribution, sales and prices, but the information, when available, is scattered in different institutions and does not always reflect the actual conditions of the market.
Charcoal markets have been more analyzed than those for fuelwood. There are quite a few examples of charcoal price control and banning of production and sales. Analysis and studies of potential markets for charcoal exports from areas with forest surpluses to countries with woodfuel shortages have been carried out, but the results have not yet become available.
Also a few studies were found concerning the socio-economic aspects of wood energy systems (fuelwood/charcoal production, transportation, distribution, sales and users) which are important to show the role of forest biomass not only as a source of energy, but also as a way to generate employment and income for a large number of people of rural and urban areas.
Insufficient and inadequate activities have been carried out to assess actual demand for woodfuel by different economic sectors. Very few market interventions are recorded.
3.1.6 Finding substitutes for woodfuels
Develop, promote and introduce alternative fuels (NRSE and fossil fuels) for the substitution of fuelwood/charcoal including use of residues: twigs, branches and dry leaves, for use in direct combustion and other processes. Improve preprocessing of fuels.
The substitution of fossil fuels for fuelwood has market attractions and will help to reduce the pressure on fuelwood. The perception of both people and the governments still remains that progress in development goes with climbing the energy ladder. It has also been shown that substitution will in fact put marginal pressure on world fossil fuel resources and the balance of payment position of individual countries. However, such a development will be constrained if regular supply of the fossil fuels is not guaranteed. It is also at variance with environmental considerations that would suggest biomass as the preferred fuel for the future.
There are limited possibilities for substituting these woodfuels by NRSE. Most NRSE are still in an experimental stage and thus their widespread application is still premature.
Agricultural residues accompanied by appropriate energy conversion technology provide only limited possibilities for fuelwood/charcoal substitution and this is not always possible without affecting their alternative use to maintain agricultural productivity.
The use of fossil fuels, such as gas and kerosene, is more feasible, particularly for household use in urban areas. However, for different technical, economic and cultural reasons, their use has not been easy to implement despite heavy subsidies being introduced.
The introduction of subsidized gas or kerosene has led to considerable reduction of fuelwood/charcoal prices, which has helped to demonstrate that there are no fixed prices for fuelwood/charcoal when they originate from forest land clearance operations for agricultural use in which fuelwood/charcoal become a by-product to pay, at least partially, for the cost of land clearance. This is a subject where land use planning and joint efforts between the agricultural and forestry sectors have to be established to stop the destruction of areas which could be used for forest production.
No action has been recorded aimed at promoting the use of fuelwood/charcoal for industrial use with higher efficiency and reducing fuelwood/charcoal use at household level.
On the contrary, great efforts in this area have been made in briquetting of various types of wastes, including forestry and agricultural residues. Briquette projects have been initiated in developing, as well as industrialized countries, with or without government subsidies. Compared to the situation before the Nairobi Conference, much more is now known about the pros and cons of this particular energy conversion technology.
In general, briquetting has worked reasonably well in several of the projects in industrialized countries. In some cases, tax incentives or high cost of petroleum fuels have made the briquettes not only technically but also economically feasible. However, there has not been a real widespread expansion of briquetting due to the limited number of locations where briquettes can be profitable, and the limited availability of suitable raw materials.
In developing countries, the results have been somewhat different. It has clearly been proven that the technology is technically feasible and that briquettes can be made from a wide range of raw materials, but it has not been proven that this can be done economically on a large scale. The end-use, mainly as a substitute cooking fuel for wood stoves, has also been proven, but not as easily as the production feasibility.
Biogas also was considered as another good substitute for fuelwood. Important efforts in research have permitted significant advances in the efficiency and reliability of both small and large-scale biogas systems. There is a large number of biogas projects in many countries; time will tell if its wide diffusion as a substitute to fuelwood/charcoal will be successful.
Activities have been carried out in this area with relatively little impact on the global fuelwood/charcoal situation. Results depend on the economic situation in the country or area involved, as well as on fossil fuel prices. Careful analysis of fuelwood/charcoal substitution by fossil fuels is required to avoid undesirable environmental and economic consequences.
It is clear that many approaches have been attempted by various organizations. The fields of activities were varied: forestry, agroforestry, improved stoves, efficient charcoal production, etc.. For each category various types of activities, using different methods were conducted, ranging from preinvestment studies through research, pilot plant/demonstration studies, to actual project implementation, market studies, dissemination, training and education. Forestry/agroforestry, stoves and charcoal production have received the greatest attention.
Rural industries have yet to receive the desired recognition. The results of the few activities undertaken indicate that some successes have been achieved in woodfuel supply, but few evaluations are available from which to draw concrete conclusions. There has been little implementation and dissemination of technologies and it is doubtful whether much has been achieved through those efforts. Nevertheless, there were some successes in a few areas, such as the dissemination of stoves.
One important weakness has not sufficiently been recognized: the lack of adequate involvement of local institutions in research and development activities and in the implementation of projects. Thus, there was total failure to transfer technology in a sustainable manner.
The constraints to implementation of projects are varied. Some are specific to the type of intervention and these have already been discussed in the appropriate sections. However, there are others that are more general in nature which are discussed in this section.
A major constraint to the implementation of new technologies in the industrial countries is the low oil prices which have tended to make the use of wood energy uneconomic compared to the use of fossil fuels. In view of the environmental, energy security and other advantages of wood energy, subsidiary and tax levying measures with regard to CO2 emissions are being suggested to encourage the use of biomass. Such measures have been found to make wood energy applications economic in countries such as Denmark and Sweden.
Several additional impediments to the use of biomass energy are to be found in the developing countries; the principal ones being:
1) The lack of market or monetary incentives, due in general to economic recession;
2) The lack of information and knowledge on the woodfuel resources, possibilities and net benefits of the technologies;
3) The lack of trained manpower (technical, managerial, marketing, etc.).
4) The lack of involvement of the people in the intervention programmes;
5) The multidisciplinary nature of woodfuel systems and problems requiring participation and cooperation among various types of experts like foresters, engineers, economists and sociologists;
6) The lack of proper appreciation of the true needs of the people and thus often inappropriate formulation of problems, approaches and methods;
7) The lack of finding appropriate financing;
8) Political and other considerations that hamper decisions on well- established required market interventions;
9) Unfavourable policy and legislative measures: market interventions such as subsidies on alternative fuels, official prices and banning of some bio-fuels, and taxation;
10) Inadequate institutional infrastructures: Although most developing countries have established various agencies that are either directly responsible or can be responsible for various NRSE, there are still some that have not taken this important initial step.
11) Poor institutional arrangements: poor coordination among agencies responsible for various aspects of wood energy implementation is a common problem;
12) The lack of involvement of institutions in the developing countries in donor activities: meaningful technology transfer cannot be attained without developing an in-house capability to implement technologies right from design through construction and operation of the plant to teaching, research and development, marketing and sales. Such in-house capability can only be developed in a sustainable manner if appropriate local institutions, research and teaching institutions and industries, are involved in all phases of projects. Cooperative research projects, preferably based in the developing countries, should be encouraged. This will have many benefits. It will provide adequate funds for the research, lead to faster adaptation to local conditions, provide mutual exchange of ideas, and provide more income to the research and teaching institutions. It should be a requirement for research and implementation projects supported by the international aid community that they be carried out jointly with suitable local institutions on an equal footing. Only in this way can the true ability of the local experts be properly drawn out and utilized.
13) Socio-economic and cultural factors: These have already been discussed in Section 2.5.