Chapter 5:

Implications for the Forestry Sector,
Conclusions and Recommendations

5.1 Introduction

Wood energy has been traditionally linked with the forestry sector not only because forests supply a substantial proportion of woodfuels consumed, and thus an important product of the forestry sector, but also because wood energy has been one of the main concerns of forestry departments both at the national and international level. For example, wood energy is one of the five priority concerns of the international Tropical Forest Action Programme (TFAP) which was launched in 1985 "to address the most urgent aspects of tropical deforestation (FAO, 1995)." The TFAP has proposed national programmes to review, assess, and monitor wood energy activities in relation to cultural, social, agricultural, land use, employment generation, and environmental issues. At the national level, wood energy concerns are, in fact, solely in the hands of forestry departments in most cases. National energy planning agencies tend to concentrate on conventional and commercial energy sources because of the "complexities" associated with handling wood energy in particular and biomass energy in general, not to mention the lack of reliable and historical data, a strong bias of the traditional energy planning process.

Notwithstanding, wood energy and the forest sector have been and will always be related in two equally important ways. On one hand, forests are an important source of fuelwood supply. On the other hand, woodfuel production and consumption impact on forest resource conservation. The scenarios developed in the preceding section will have important implications on these two relationships.

5.2 Fuelwood supply from forests

Forests and other wooded lands comprise 31.4%, equivalent to 552.8 million hectares, of the combined land areas of the countries under study (except Cambodia and Maldives) (FAO, 1997). Figure 5.1 shows that forests and other wooded lands make up a huge portion of the total land area in Bhutan, Indonesia, Laos (which is more than 90% covered by forests), Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. To some extent, forests still thrive in Nepal and the Philippines. In Pakistan, forests account for less than 5% of total land area.

It is known for a fact that forests are an important source of fuelwood. However, information on actual forests contribution to fuelwood supply are hardly available. Recent studies, on the other hand, have mentioned that non-forests lands have become a more important source of fuelwood in many cases. Information are available, though, only for India, Pakistan, and the Philippines as presented in Chapter 3. Nevertheless, data from FAO show that fuelwood consumption still represents a very significant or high proportion of total removals from forests. Ironically, this is true, more than in the other countries under study, for India and Pakistan where more than 90% of total forest removals are estimated to be accounted for by fuelwood consumption.

 Figure 5.1


Figure 5.2 (referring to Table A.1.2 of Appendix 1) shows that, on average, between 77% and 79% of total forest removals in the region are indeed accounted for by fuelwood consumption during the period 1980-1994. The countries in South Asia have the highest proportion, averaging 92% during the same period. Except for Bhutan, the shares in the individual countries in the sub-region have been steady indicating that forests have been a "steady" source of fuelwood supply in these countries (Figure 5.3). The same can be said of China which had around 70% of its total forest removals being accounted for by fuelwood consumption (Figure 5.2).

Figure 5.2


A different trend can be observed in Southeast Asia, where fuelwood consumption as a percentage of total forest removals was between 72% and 76% in 1980-1994. The figure would have been higher if not for Malaysia which had less than 20% of forest removals going to fuelwood consumption (Figure 5.4). Close to 90% of the forest removals in Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand have met the fuelwood requirements in these countries. However, unlike in South Asia, the proportion of fuelwood consumption to total forest removals in Southeast Asia has seen diverse behaviour over the 1980-1994 period. For example in Laos, fuelwood consumption as a percentage of total forest removals went down to 86% in 1994 from 93% in 1980. In contrast, Laos neighbor country, Thailand, experienced an increase, from 85% in 1980 to 93% in 1994. A similar trend is more or less exhibited by Myanmar. These trends indicate at least two things. Firstly, in this sub-region, trees from forests have had other important applications other than energy use (particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia). This probably explains also the trend in Laos, that is trees have found applications other than simply providing energy to households. Secondly, the increasing trend exhibited in Thailand and Myanmar meant that fuelwood consumption has grown faster than forest removals, indicating an increase in the growth of fuelwood demand relative to that of supply. It is easy to conclude that there has been an increase in the pressure to fuelwood supply in these areas, but this is very difficult to verify at this point.

Figure 5.3


Figure 5.4



5.3 Implications of the scenarios

A precise assessment of the implications of projected fuelwood consumption on the forest resources base is only possible given a corresponding assessment of the future state of the forest resource base itself. This is typical of any supply-demand balancing. However, the assessment of forest resources is beyond the scope of this study. The subject itself requires specialized methodology and technical information and could very well be the subject of a separate study done at the national level.

At this point, however, a very general analysis of the implications of the three scenarios on fuelwood supply from forest can be made. This would depend on how much of the trees removed from forests today are used as fuelwood. Obviously, the FOSSIL scenario would exert the least pressure on the forest resource base because fuelwood is gradually substituted by fossil-based fuels (despite an assumed massive campaign to promote the latter). However, South Asian countries, which already consume most of the trees removed from forests as fuelwood, could still feel this pressure. This is true also for some countries in Southeast Asia (notably Thailand) which have high proportion of fuelwood in total forest removals.

With projected fuelwood consumption growing 8% on average annually and reaching as high as 11% for Malaysia and 10% for China, the GREEN scenario, on the other hand, clearly requires more trees than what is currently produced. The growth rate for South Asian countries is very close to the average and would most likely require more trees from non-forest lands as already most of forest output are consumed as fuelwood. Even Bhutan, whose expected fuelwood consumption under this scenario would grow only less than 2%, would suffer from inadequate fuelwood supply from forests because already 95% of total forest removals are fuelwood. In contrast, even though Malaysia’s fuelwood consumption under the GREEN scenario represents the maximum growth, there is a lot of room for such growth. At present only 20% of forest removals in Malaysia are fuelwood and thus, the country could afford to increase its fuelwood consumption at that rate. This is also possible even if in Malaysia most wood from forests continue to be produced for commercial purposes. Fuelwood supply could come in the form of residues produced from this wood-based industries.

The BAU scenario is a middle course. The pressure exerted on the forest resource base should not be as great as in the GREEN scenario, but one could not assume that current production from forests would be able to meet the 2% average annual fuelwood consumption estimated for the BAU scenario. Total forest removals between 1980 and 1994 average slightly less than this (1.94%), while fuelwood supply averages 80% of total forest removals during this period. Assuming these rates are maintained through 2010 and fuelwood supply are available, the estimated fuelwood supply under these conditions could barely match the projected fuelwood consumption under the BAU scenario (see Table 5.1). Of course, these are rough calculations, but they show possible negative implications on the forest resource base of a do-nothing attitude towards fuelwood supply.


5.4 Impact of rural and urban fuelwood consumption

In 13 of the RWEDP member countries, FAO (1993) records the rate of deforestation to be in the order of 3.76 million ha per year between 1981 and 1990. The rate is fastest in Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia (Figure 5.5).

There is now no reason to believe that deforestation is primarily caused by fuelwood consumption, even though this could still be the prevailing mentality in some sectors. It has been shown that the main causes of trees and forests depletion are (i) clearances for arable and grazing land due to population growth; (ii) migration and resettlement schemes; (iii) "slash and burn" farming with rapid rotation cycles due to population pressures; (iv) overgrazing of young trees and supportive grasslands; (v) uncontrolled forest fires; and (vi) commercial logging for timber (Leach and Gowen, 1987). However, the same study also notes that demand for woodfuels "may play a major part in deforestation" in two cases:

Table 5.1: Projected Fuelwood Supply vs. Projected Fuelwood Consumption (BAU Scenario)


Projected Fuelwood Supply \1

Projected Fuelwood Consumption








Asia Total







South Asia

















































Sri Lanka







South East Asia






































































Notes: \1 This was calculated based on the 1994 share of fuelwood consumption to and 1980-1994 growth rate of total forest removals.


Figure 5.5


In general, fuelwood consumption exerts pressure on the resource base if it is growing at a rate higher than the productivity of the resources. However, the differing characteristics of rural and urban fuelwood consumption have important and distinct implications on the sustainability of fuelwood resources. In most cases, the difference between rural and urban fuelwood consumption is the difference between collected and purchased fuelwood. In rural areas, more fuelwood is collected than purchased and the opposite is true in urban areas. Fuelwood consumption in rural areas, therefore, is dependent on access to resources. When there is scarcity of fuelwood supply in rural areas, people respond in a number of ways. For one, people could opt to shift to other biomass fuels (of lower quality than fuelwood) especially if these are available in substantial quantities. Secondly, people would spend more time and travel greater distances to collect fuelwood. But this is an unattractive option and would be avoided if possible. On the other hand, this could be the only response to scarcity if other fuels are not available or, even if they are available, affordable. Moreover, this type of response will have the greatest impact of fuelwood supply sustainability. A third type of response could be increasing fuelwood supply by planting trees whether in forest or non-forest lands. However, this type of response is by the question of land ownership and the need to invest in such an activity. Most rural poor would have limited tenurial rights on lands. Even if land ownership is not an issue, people would have to have cash to buy seeds, for example, and would have to wait for sometime before they can harvest and collect fuelwood. In the meantime they would have to meet their daily requirement for fuelwood.

The situation will not be similar in urban areas where most fuelwood consumed are purchased or are part of a commodity market system, whether formal or informal. The impact of urban fuelwood demand would depend on the existence of a distribution infratructure or network that brings fuelwood supply from rural areas to urban areas (Leach and Gowen, 1987). Rural areas that are relatively isolated will not feel as much pressure from increased fuelwood demand in urban areas as those that are linked to urban areas through well defined distribution network. In the latter case, the increased demand in urban areas would result in a higher depletion rate because rural fuelwood suppliers and traders will have more incentive to cut trees, to the extent of going to sources of fuelwood other than those they normally go. It is therefore clear the rural fuelwood gatherers would collect fuelwood not only for own consumption but more importantly as a source of income. Thus, the impact of increased pressure from urban fuelwood demand threatens not only fuelwood supply but also the source of income of rural fuelwood gatherers, producers, and traders.

5.5 Enhancing the sustainability of woodfuel supply

The fuelwood supply sustainability problem has led to a number of responses which can be categorized into supply- and demand-side measures or interventions. The supply-side measures are implemented independently or integrated with social forestry or agroforestry projects. The objective of independent projects would be to increase fuelwood supply from existing tree plantations or developing new ones for the same purpose. The same objective could be one of the components of social forestry or agroforestry projects, but the overall goals of such types of projects would be oriented towards their social benefits through forest resource management, that is, improving the livelihood of forest communities through better management of forest resources.

The sustainability problem have been also addressed indirectly through demand-side measures, that is, by promoting energy efficiency and conservation. In particular, in the case of fuelwood, efforts have focused on the design and dissemination of improved cookstoves. Although past efforts have failed in many developing countries because, among other reasons, the low income condition of target beneficiaries have inhibited them from investing in improved cookstoves, there is greater motivation now and in the future to continue with the program because the pressure on the biomass resource base is higher and increasing (Barnes et al., 1994).

The scenarios developed in Chapter 4 call precisely for these actions or interventions if a sustainable wood energy future is desired. This is true even in the case of the FOSSIL scenario which encourages transition from traditional to modern fuels. However, the issue is important in the BAU scenario and crucial in the GREEN scenario. Specifically, both BAU and GREEN scenarios assume that fuelwood supply from agricultural lands will have increased thus reducing the pressure on forest lands. The increased supply from non-forest lands also addresses the social costs associated with fuelwood collection because it reduces the distance that have to be travelled by fuelwood gatherer, most of them women and children.

5.6 Conclusions and recommendations

This study provided an overview of three available wood energy databases for Asia and, based on the information presented in these databases, analyzed the past, present, and future role of wood energy in the region. Although available information derived from these databases provide strong indications about the present and future role of wood energy, a gap still persist in terms of having complete, timely, consistent, and reliable wood energy data. An analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the three databases leads to the following recommendations:

  1. The wood energy data provided in FAO forest products yearbook are estimated based on population growth rates. It is well known, however, that population growth rate is not the only driving factor for wood energy consumption and eventually the wood energy supply. Hence, a better estimation procedure should identify other important variables that determine wood energy demand and proceed to establish a strong relationship between these driving variables and wood energy demand. The choice of variables and even the functional form to describe this relationship could vary from one country to another.

  2. The present situation of wood energy database is very poor at least in the case of Asian countries. Whatever data exits in various data bases, are mostly inconsistent and incomparable because of differences in classification, definitions, terminology and measuring units. International or regional organizations (e.g., World Bank, UN, FAO, RWEDP, IEA, AIT, AEEMTRC etc.) are currently putting their efforts on the collection and maintenance of these wood energy data on individual basis. However, until and unless there is cooperation among these organizations, the disparities among the various databases (although they collect a good volume of data) will persist and the problem of selecting the best databases will remain as it is. The initiative recently taken by FAO to harmonize the classification and definitions of wood energy terms and unification of measuring units can be considered as the first step in this direction. It will be more reasonable to have consistent and reliable data, collected through a joint effort of various organizations rather than to have an inconsistent and overlapping data collected through individual efforts.

  3. National organizations, too, are expected to play an active role in this cooperative undertaking as they remain the immediate source of wood energy data for these international organizations. But more important, national organizations should take an active role in collecting consistent, timely, and reliable wood energy data because the information derived from these data should be their basis in designing and implementing wood energy programs. More often than not, the wood energy sector is neglected at the national level because of lack of information to serve as a basis for wood energy decisions. In most cases also, national organizations recognize this but are either not willing to commit themselves to this effort or simply lack the resources to do it. In this regard, international organizations can either provide the push or the necessary technical and financial support, or both.

A concerted effort towards this direction is important because wood energy is here to stay. Many people in the region will continue to depend on wood energy whether to fuel their daily energy needs or as a source of income. Even if rising national income and urbanization drive the shift towards using modern fuels, the fact is conventional energy sources (oil, gas, and coal) are depletable resources. In the long term, people will have to rely increasingly on renewable energy sources, of which wood is one alternative. Moreover, on the demand side, it will still take some time before income is equitably distributed among all people and the necessary infrastructure is established to make modern fuels available in all places. And when that time comes, people will still have to choose among available fuels based on their preferences, and it is expected that woodfuels can be a competitive alternative in some sectors. In the meantime, it should be one of the major concerns of national and international organizations dedicated to solving the problems associated with energy use to make sure that the supply of this resource remain sustainable.

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