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6.1. Current Issues
6.2. Prospects

6.1. Current Issues

6.1.1. Supply Sources and Sustainability
6.1.2. Traded Versus Non-traded Supply
6.1.3. Wood Energy, Poverty and Rural Employment
6.1.4. Environmental Implications of Woodfuel Use
6.1.5. Availability, Accessibility and Affordability
6.1.6. Woodfuel as a By-product

6.1.1. Supply Sources and Sustainability

The main sources of woodfuels include natural forests, government and private tree plantations, community forests, village or private woodlots, scattered trees in farm boundaries, canal and river banks and road sides, and private trees in homesteads and home gardens.

The share of non-forest areas in the total woodfuel supply is substantial. This information is very important for evaluating the sustainable use of biomass energy in the region. It is now obvious that "the other energy crisis", i.e. the woodfuel crisis, in developing countries, which was predicted in the mid 1970s because of massive deforestation, has not taken place as was predicted. In no country has the natural forest areas disappeared completely. Despite a continuing problem of growing stock depletion, primarily due to changes in land use, unsustainable harvesting of forest products, open grazing and frequent occurrence of fires in natural forests(which have been the most important issues affecting sustainable forest management in tropical countries) most countries have also been able to expand the area under tree cover through massive afforestation or reforestation programmes.

Non-industrial tree plantations and private and community woodlots, including scattered or linear tree plantations on privately owned or community managed lands, have contributed significantly to the supply of wood in recent years. In many RWEDP member-countries massive tree planting programmes under social or community forestry development and non-industrial tree plantations of commercial importance have played a great role.

Data (published by RWEDP (RWEDP, 1996) on the non-forest supplies in eight countries are summarized in Table 4.2. The contribution of non-forest supplies in other countries is still not known. For the time being, the average for all RWEDP member-countries is estimated to be two thirds of the total supply (i.e. 68%, based on a consumption-weighted average of the available data). These sources may ensure a sustainable supply of woodfuels in the coming years, thus delinking deforestation from wood energy use.

Firewood derived from tree stems, branches and stumps is the commonly preferred fuel amongst domestic users of biomass fuels. However, only the better-off households can afford them. Many users do not own private trees and lack access to them for getting the preferred type of woodfuels. They also lack surplus cash to buy woodfuels in local markets. The part of the population which lives below the poverty line uses biomass residues of various types, which are often perceived as inferior fuels. Furthermore, many poor people in large urban centres try to meet their fuel requirements by collecting freely available waste wood, or by cheaply purchased recovered wood from old construction activities.

These types of biomass fuels may be in the form of:

(a) Fallen leaves, needles, twigs, and branches of standing trees;
(b) Left over wood and branches after commercial harvesting of forests;
(c) Crop residue of different kinds, including stalks, straw, husk, shell and cobs;
(d) Grasses;
(e) Industrial residues in the form of saw dust, off-cuts, bagasse, coconut fonds;
(f) Discarded waste wood from different sources (e.g. old furniture, recovered wood from old construction activities, drift wood).

When the above types of fuels and their supply sources are included in the statistics of biomass fuel production, the share of forest produced woodfuel becomes rather insignificant indeed. For a large proportion of the poor and marginalized farmers in Asia, the other biomass sources provide the fuels for subsistence. Therefore, the importance of biomass fuel is not expected to diminish as long as the problems of poverty and marginalization prevail in Asia. The poor and the marginalized farmers should in no case be blamed for deforestation or forest depletion. They are neither the consumers of the bulk of traded woodfuels, nor are they responsible for illegally harvesting and using the large size high value trees standing in forests and plantations for domestic fuel supply. Indeed, they lack the access, tools and cash to harvest the resources, which only the contractors and traders of woodfuels can afford.

Biomass residues represent one of the essential components of farming systems, primarily in upland (mountainous) ecosystems. A significant portion of the residues is applied to the soils to replenish nutrients consumed in crop production. Excessive use of residues for other purposes may be detrimental to the maintenance of farm productivity in fragile ecosystems. Of course, with improved irrigation and additional farm inputs, productivity of land and residue production could be enhanced, which could supply additional subsistence energy to farmers and the poor, as well as to modern commercial applications. These issues deserve serious consideration in sectoral planning for energy and agriculture. In the calculations by RWEDP, presented in Chapter 8 of this document, a conservative estimate is used for potential use of crop residues for fuel (i.e. only 50% of processing residues, and leaving field residues untouched).

6.1.2. Traded Versus Non-traded Supply

Most woodfuels consumed in rural areas originate from private or public sources. With the recent thrust of economic liberalization and open market policy in most RWEDP member-countries, private sector participation in commercial tree farming on privately owned land, harvesting, conversion and transportation of privately raised trees and commercial trade in wood and related products is becoming more and more possible. However, many restrictions still exist which limit development in the sector. In most countries, even today, prevailing regulations governing privately raised tree harvesting, conversion and trade are very conservative. Most seem to restrict the free movement and trade in wood and related products via open marketing channels. According to their proponents these restrictions are to control deforestation caused by illicit cutting and smuggling of forest products from government owned and managed natural forests and plantations.

Despite many restrictions, trade in privately produced wood and woodfuels is penetrating into the local markets which used to receive the supplies either through vendors or government established corporations. Many vendors also acted as collectors, transporters and sellers for the informally traded woodfuel, and they mainly serviced the household sector. The government run agencies, on the other hand, procured the woodfuel they supplied from government forest departments. The major clients of the formally traded woodfuels are the military and police establishments, student hostels in colleges and institutions, food and catering services in towns and large urban centres, and woodfuel based industries of various kinds. These markets are now receiving additional supply of woodfuels from private producers. As a matter of fact, without the urban and industrial users the prospects for private sector participation in commercial wood energy development seem bleak.

For most of the domestic woodfuel consumers, who are primarily the rural people and the poor in larger urban centres, woodfuel is still a free good that can be collected at the source. As long as such situations prevail, no large scale commercial investment will be feasible for wood energy development in the region.

Furthermore, an increasing number of agro-processing industries meet their energy requirements by using residues generated by their own operations (e.g. sugar mills, rice mills, palm and coconut oil mills), and others obtain firewood when replacing fruit orchards and other non-industrial tree plantations (e.g. rubber and coconut). These supply sources are slowly gaining recognition in terms of their important supplementary role in woodfuel supply, particularly in forest deficit and non-industrial plantation dominated areas.

6.1.3. Wood Energy, Poverty and Rural Employment

As stated, only a limited segment of the users purchase the woodfuel they consume in markets. Others either hire paid labour or collect woodfuel themselves from available free supply sources. A significant portion of the rural population is employed in these tasks, and for some of them it is the only means to earn cash income.

Biomass residues and by-products derived under different systems of land management remain the only fuel option in the short term for subsistence energy for the poor and marginal farmers in rural areas. In areas where commercial production of woodfuel is not feasible and where woodfuel is not yet a tradable commodity, participatory management of degraded natural forests through local forest user groups is the only hope for enhancing the supply to these farmers. In such areas community or social forestry development strategies have proven a great success. In areas where commercial woodfuel production potential is high and trade in woodfuel insignificant, the going market price also promotes new investment in the establishment of fast-growing dedicated woodfuel plantations or in the integration of multipurpose trees into farming systems. These opportunities can be utilized to create new jobs for the poor and marginalized farmers. Since tree planting, maintenance, harvesting, processing, conversion (also into charcoal), transportation and trade of wood and fuelwood provides a substantial amount of new employment in rural areas, this opportunity should be utilized to its maximum for poverty alleviation.

It is estimated that the labour employed in the woodfuel business per unit of energy consumed is 20 times greater than that for kerosene, which is its closest substitute among the commercial fuel substitutes. In all RWEDP member-countries, a large number of people are involved in work associated with the production, conversion, and flow of woodfuel and other related activities. Employment data, previously published by World Bank/ESMAP in 1991, are summarized in Table 4.3.

For most countries in Asia it may be wise not only to opt for a strategy that enhances woodfuel production, but also to implement wood energy related development programmes for poverty alleviation. Similarly, woodfuel utilization in industrial activities can contribute significantly to poverty alleviation in rural and urban areas. Other activities in the wood energy sector of importance to poverty alleviation include improved cook stove production, wood energy based food and agricultural products processing, and mineral, metal, textile, and wood production.

6.1.4. Environmental Implications of Woodfuel Use

There are both negative and positive implications of the widespread use of biomass fuels. Increasingly, concern is being raised about the negative health impacts of traditional fuel use in the domestic sector. Several studies indicate that, besides the hardship associated with gathering and cooking, indoor air pollution associated with biomass fuel use in open hearths and non-ventilated kitchens induces health related problems particularly for women, lactating children and the elderly.

A disputable negative environmental concern related to woodfuel use is deforestation. In vulnerable watersheds or catchment areas and in ecologically sensitive or protected areas located in the environs of heavily populated villages or urban centres, where the use of traded woodfuel by the household and industrial commercial sector is significant, continuing use of unsustainably harvested woodfuel may be one of the many significant causes of deforestation at the local level. However, it is not the sole cause of deforestation everywhere else. Many studies increasingly support this view, and categorically state that deliberate conversion of natural forest lands into agriculture and other uses is the foremost cause of deforestation in the countries and areas covered by these studies.

In the context of growing concerns about global warming and world climate change due to increasing emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere by fossil fuels, the thrust of development in the energy sector is now for development of renewable sources of energy. Therefore, extended use of wood energy is gaining widespread support as live trees and vegetation serve as sinks and reservoirs of carbon. If sustainably produced and utilized, wood is a carbon neutral source of energy. The relationship between woodfuel use and global warming is dealt with further in chapter 9. The strategy of environmentally friendly development in the energy sector is being successfully implemented in several European countries (particularly in Nordic and European Union member-countries), in some countries of South America, and in the USA. Some Southeast Asian countries, i.e. Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand, have already initiated pilot scale adoption of new energy technologies through private sector participation.

Wood is an important source of energy in Europe. Over 45% of the volume of wood removed annually is used for energy, either in its conventional fuelwood form, or as residues of wood industries, or as recovered used wood. The main consumer of wood energy, there too, is the household sector in rural areas (about 65%). The other users are forest industries (27%) and other intermediate consumers like district heating plants and community buildings (8%). (UN/ECE and FAO, 1996).

However, the issue of boiler emissions of volatile hydrocarbons (VOC), which are responsible for "blue haze" and are also produced from wood burning, has been raised as a possible limiting factor for expanded use of wood energy in the future without technological advancement for emission control.

In Asia, the application of modern biomass energy technologies is expected to accelerate to resolve the problems of energy shortages and to meet the growing demand from newly emerging industries. A new prospect has been opened-up by the successful implementation of pilot plants that use modern cogeneration technology. The prospect of expanding modern technological options in wood energy development looks quite promising in some Southeast Asian countries, particularly in Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand. The technical options seem suitable to new wood industries which can generate a sufficient amount of wood waste and residues for cogeneration, or in existing industries willing to invest in innovations to make the industry self-reliant in energy. In all cases, the primary thrust is to make optimal use of available wood waste for energy production.

The prospect of excessive or overuse of available biomass (woodfuel and residues) can not be ruled out in the absence of national policies which prevent unsustainable use. It could also affect prevailing farming systems in upland ecosystems where farm productivity is to a great extent maintained by applying biomass residues. Full or excessive utilization of residues for other purposes could have an adverse impact on the fragile environment.

6.1.5. Availability, Accessibility and Affordability

User preferences for various types of biomass fuels depend largely on local fuel availability, accessibility and affordability. The three factors are interdependent.

Accessibility can significantly limit the availability of fuelwood in a certain area, even where a large tract of natural forests exists in the neighbourhood. For example, people living in areas close to classified natural forests or protected areas (e.g. designated national parks or wildlife reserves, strict nature reserves or biodiversity conservation areas, and important catchment areas or watersheds), no matter how big the forest area may be, sometimes have no or limited right of access to resources to meet their basic needs for forest products, including fuelwood. Natural physical barriers (due to difficult terrain, steep topography, cliff and big river crossings, etc.) also limit the access to local resources. Seasonal variation in climate may act as a further hindrance.

Household decisions are influenced by economic affordability when choosing types of fuel amongst the available options. This is a major factor determining local fuel use patterns. Affordability may be defined in terms of cash, or time required for self-collection of firewood, or for collection through hired labour. A related factor which affects woodfuel supply is the cost of transportation. Fuelwood is a "high volume low value" good and faces economic limitations in long distance transportation. Woodfuels for subsistence are typically acquired within a range of 15-20 km from the user, whereas commercial woodfuels are normally acquired within a range of 80-100 km. In limited cases woodfuel is transported over long distances, e.g. as a load on an empty truck on a return journey.

Further factors which can affect the level and patterns of fuel consumption include demographic characteristics, food preferences and local cooking habits, culture, tradition and rituals, climatic conditions and seasonal variations. These factors may limit the amount available as woodfuel, both for local collection and for market trade. The going market price tends to reflect local people's capacity to purchase these products, if no other forces interfere from outside.

Though availability, accessibility and affordability affect the choices of fuel users, most users prefer woodfuel (firewood and charcoal) over inferior biomass fuels. This places woodfuel high up on the "preferred fuel ladder" as compared to traditional fuel substitutes.

When traditional woodfuels are converted into modern forms of energy, due consideration should be given to the needs of the poor and their problems of availability and accessibility. Industrial commercial sectors are generally better placed to make use of commercial wood energy than the traditional woodfuel users in the domestic sector. As the residues of various kind are currently being used in most South Asian countries, future commercial application of scattered residues (produced in smaller dispersed locations) can create further hardships for poor and marginal farmers.

6.1.6. Woodfuel as a By-product

In Asia, the bulk of the woodfuels harvested is still a by-product of various types of forest and tree-based agricultural land-use systems. The systems include management of natural forests, tree plantations, and naturally growing trees and shrubs in public, private or community owned/managed lands for multipurpose production objectives. Establishing large-scale, fast-growing woodfuel plantations exclusively for the purpose of supplying woodfuel to the domestic sector is a strategy for rural energy development still to be tested for financial feasibility.

Some RWEDP member-countries which were following a centrally planned economic system, have established substantial areas of new tree plantations with the prime objective of fuelwood supply (e.g. the Firewood Forest Construction schemes in China, and the massive reforestation and afforestation campaign and the scattered tree planting programme in Vietnam). No other country has established such extensive areas for single purpose woodfuel plantations. However, even in China and Vietnam the main product of the wood harvest is used for construction or as industrial raw material after the trees grow to harvestable age. Only the logging residues and industrial wood wastes are used as fuels, as by-products.

Social or community forestry development programmes, though initiated primarily to address the issue of fuel supply in the domestic sector, have now become popular, and successful, all over the region. However, here as well the major share from the output of community forestry schemes seems to be unavailable to local users as woodfuel, as was envisaged during the conceptualization stage of this strategy. The initial thrust of these schemes was to meet the basic energy needs of the rural people through their active participation in every stage of forestry development. The concept was linked to an international strategy to overcome the expected fuel crisis in developing countries immediately after the international price rise in petroleum fuels in the early 1970s. Experience of the last decade suggests that the major share of the wood harvested from these schemes cannot compete as firewood because other end-users are willing to pay higher prices. Therefore, only whatever firewood is sold at the logging site by forest departments or whatever is available as leftover wood, will be used for energy.

Homestead and home-garden systems of land use are more prominent in tropical countries than in those with milder climate (particularly in India, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Sri Lanka). These systems, together with traditional agroforestry practices integrating fruit and multipurpose trees into the farming systems in drier regions and highland or mountainous areas, are successful examples of people's subsistence needs-based land management systems that prevail in the region. The multiple products derived from trees provide food, wood and fuel to the people, fodder to the livestock, and vegetative protection to the land - which is a time tested strategy of self reliance.

The recently expanding non-industrial tree plantations in the countries of Southeast Asia (e.g. coconut, rubber, and oil palm plantations mostly in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand) have become additional supply sources of wood and by-products. Similarly, in some South Asian countries, the new participatory forestry development strategy of "care and share", is gaining increasing recognition for its success in the management of degraded natural forests. The strategy tends to identify the historical users or right holders in such forests and allows their active participation in management and benefit sharing. Examples are the Joint Forest Management (JFM) system in India, the User Group management system in Nepal, and the participatory agroforestry development system in Bangladesh for management of degraded "Sal" forests.

It must be concluded that fuelwood in most Asian countries is not a main product but only a by-product from forest and timber processing. However, it is an important by-product. It is estimated that up to 30-40% of the above ground biomass of a tree comprises small size wood (from stem and lops and tops) and bark, which would be available as fuelwood at the felling site and would not be suitable for conversion into sawn timber. Of the commercially important sawn wood recovered after forest harvest, again a major share (between 30-70%) will be available as wood residues or processing waste (i.e. slabs, off-cuts, sawdust, wood strips/chips, etc.), depending upon the recovery efficiency of the technology applied in processing (in primary, secondary and tertiary processing). When added together, as much as 80% of the total wood harvest may be available for fuel purposes. If one further takes into account the ultimate use of all products made of wood, the recovered wood from old construction activities and objects, virtually every piece of wood harvested from a tree becomes available for fuel, as a by-product sooner or later.

6.2. Prospects

6.2.1. Aspects of Supply Enhancement
6.2.2. Strategies for Supply Enhancement
6.2.3. Recommendations

6.2.1. Aspects of Supply Enhancement

The development strategies and programmes in the forestry sector, e.g. Forestry Sector Master Plans (MPs); Tropical Forestry Action Plans (TFAPs), and more recently the National Forestry Action Plans (NFAPs) after the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, all recognize the depletion of natural forests due to deforestation and over-use. They all call for the initiation of sustainable management of the remaining natural forests and man-made plantations. To protect fragile ecosystems and to meet the basic needs of local people, they recommend an enormous expansion in the rate of tree planting, in which the participation of local forest user groups or the private sector is considered a prerequisite. To overcome woodfuel shortages, most plans recommend a three-pronged approach:

a) Demand management through introduction of technology to reduce woodfuel use by more efficient cook stoves

b) Supply enhancement through improved distribution systems and increased production management of natural forests, new reforestation and afforestation, private tree planting, etc.

c) Development of alternatives, e.g. commercial utilization of wood-waste for energy by densification or cogeneration, and development and promotion of non-conventional renewable energy.

However, it is observed that most of these approaches eventually fall short of expectations, because the intended beneficiaries appear to have limited access or capacity to acquire the new resources developed. The commonly perceived constraints include socio-economic and institutional factors, (in government and non-government sectors), support services, incentives and motivation (e.g. credits and inputs), manpower and training. These issues will be discussed further.


The low socio-economic status of the majority of traditional fuel users puts them in a position of free collectors of woodfuel rather than consumers of traded fuels. The amount of woodfuel they consume currently does not enter into the marketing chain, nor does it get recorded in official statistics.

Related to low socio-economic status and poverty is a chronic hunger for land in most countries for increased agricultural production to feed the growing population. This puts most countries in a situation where large areas required for developing fast-growing commercial woodfuel plantations are unlikely to be available. Private land holdings (including all types of land whether cultivable or not) are, on average, very small (less than one hectare in total). Some countries rich in degraded forest area or waste lands have been trying to convert them into tree plantations (e.g. China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand). But most other countries can only find some scattered plots of a few hectares to convert into community or village woodlots. Of course, in most countries the prospect of managing degraded natural forests and the development of agroforestry land use systems is high.


A number of questions can be raised regarding the economic development potential of woodfuel, such as: will it be economical to raise large-scale fast growing woodfuel plantations on public land (forest or community land) purely from the point of view of producing cheap energy to supply rural households? If so, under what conditions will it be feasible both financially and economically? If not feasible, what alternative opportunities exist in terms of woodfuel supply enhancement, purely for meeting the subsistence energy needs of rural people? Should there be specific programmes for urban consumers of woodfuel (including domestic, industrial and commercial applications) which is traded in the market? If yes, what is the maximum price people will be prepared to pay for woodfuel produced commercially?

These economic issues need to be critically analysed when formulating strategies at the country level to enhance woodfuel production. Application of internal economic rate of return (IERR) analysis during project design alone should not be the factor to justify investments in large-scale fast-growing woodfuel plantations. Since most of the domestic sector woodfuel users in rural areas will not be in a position to pay the economic price of woodfuel produced in such large-scale plantations, the issue of long-term sustainability of the strategy remains unresolved.

Current international prices of petroleum fuels, prevailing subsidies on commercial fuels, the long gestation period of woodfuel plantations, high conversion and transportation costs, all tend to limit the development potential of high investment woodfuel plantation projects in Asia. The present perception of biomass fuel as a "cheap and dirty" source of energy does not favour cost recovery from expensive plantation projects. Moreover, part of the economically better off section of the society may switch to other "clean and modern" commercial energy substitutes.

At the level of the national economy, woodfuel use contributes to improving the balance of payments, by import substitution through the use of indigenous renewable energy resources.


As mentioned above, natural or man-made physical barriers together with other factors related to climatic and seasonal variations, also affect the availability, accessibility and affordability of woodfuel to users. In some cases it will not be possible to supply woodfuel, no matter what price the users are willing to pay locally. Poor infrastructure, difficult terrain, long distance from supply sources and high transportation cost all add to the limiting factors of availability, accessibility and affordability.


Traditional biomass energy conversion technology is primarily based on direct feeding of crude or partially processed fuels into the stove, hearth, fireplace, furnace or boilers, for producing heat and/or shaft power for cooking, processing or manufacturing. In the long-term, these technologies tend to phase out slowly, and upper and, indeed, middle income groups in large urban centres and towns are already showing signs of energy transformation, particularly in the household sector. As modern industries do not favour the use of crude biomass in its traditional forms, consumption in the future may depend upon the level of introduction of modern energy technologies in the industrial commercial sector. But at the same time, as long as these traditional types of processing and manufacturing activities continue, the demand for woodfuel will also continue, and probably even increase in absolute terms, due to population growth and growth in the demand for these products. The demand for woodfuel will be supplied from whatever production sources are accessible and the cost may increase as more and more distant sources are exploited.

Despite technological advancement, application of biomass fuels for conversion into modern commercial energy is making only a slow intrusion into the region, mostly in some countries in Southeast Asia. Even there, public sector agencies related to energy development have yet to fully recognize the potential contribution of the innovations. In most other countries, even basic domestic biomass fuel use technology is yet to be developed and disseminated, both for improvement of cooking conditions and for fuel efficiency. Due to limitations of land availability for establishing large scale woodfuel plantations, the potentials in the region seem to be confined to the application of residues produced by wood-based industries and the agricultural sector.

Further, modern biomass energy development technologies developed in industrialized countries may not suit local conditions, particularly in terms of operation and management, maintenance, backstopping arrangements, etc. Research and development in biomass energy applications does not yet receive significant budgetary support. Basic knowledge on biomass densification, gasification, combustible vegetable oils, etc. is still limited in most countries in the region.


Until recently, in virtually all countries, only the government forestry departments had the authority to harvest and trade wood and related products. These agencies, during the commercial harvesting of trees in natural forests or plantations, convert only the branches and small size stem wood into woodfuel. The primary concern of most forest departments in the region was, and still is, to produce high value commercial sawn wood, and not woodfuel. And wherever a market for woodfuels did not exist, they simply left such wood in the forest as logging residues. Local users were allowed to collect it later, either freely under their right and concession to adjoining forests or with payment of nominal royalty fees to the government.

The role and potentials of the private sector to contribute to wood energy development is not yet fully recognized. So far, the responsible agencies in the public sector tend to act more as controllers than as development promoters of biomass energy. Negative aspects of biomass fuel-use seem to be published more widely than their positive contributions, and often with much exaggeration. The most common misconceptions concern woodfuel induced deforestation and environmental degradation, the impoverishment of soil nutrients and adverse effects on agricultural production due to continuing use of biomass residues, and the use of woodfuel contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. This misinformation induces restrictions of different kinds, governing the ownership, and harvesting of trees and the movement and trade of privately produced wood and fuelwood. These are clear manifestations of institutional problems.

The need for inter-agency co-ordination and collaboration in wood energy development is slowly being felt and gaining recognition in the region after initiation of activities by FAO/RWEDP in the mid-1980s. Still, a clear policy at the national level regarding wood energy development is lacking in most of the member-countries. Neither the energy sector nor the forestry sector bears a sole responsibility for wood energy development.

Policy and Legislation:

Prevailing policy and legislation governing land, forest and tree ownership and tenancy is not clear, forestry and agriculture sector policies are uncoordinated if not contradictory, and the energy sector still seems reluctant to come forward to give its unqualified support to wood energy development.

Education and Training:

Forestry and agroforestry related education and training programmes in the region do not yet recognize the need to include subjects related to wood energy development in their training curricula. Training in the power and energy related institutes generally care more about non-conventional renewable sources than wood energy.

Advances in terms of incorporating wood energy subjects into forestry training have been made so far in some countries only (e.g. PFI, Pakistan; UPLB, Philippines). Not enough information is exchanged on these important developments in the region. RWEDP's recent effort has played an instrumental role in identifying the gaps.


Information is still limited regarding the supply side of wood energy systems, especially forest and non-forest area based production and flow systems. This affects the planners' efforts to project energy demand/supply balances based on sustainable supply potential, and affects farmers and traders by restricting their knowledge of the size of the existing fuelwood market, woodfuel prices and pricing mechanism.

Extension and Support Service:

In today's competitive world, whatever crops cannot be sold will not be raised and whatever has the potential to attract higher market prices will be raised by most farming communities as well as private sector investors, even if there could be a risk of over-supply in the market. This aspect is becoming more and more visible in forestry related developments too. The successful and commercially motivated agroforestry development in selected parts of India, Pakistan and other countries, and the expanding non-industrial tree plantations primarily in Southeast Asian countries are the visible examples of the changing trend in farming systems and land use in the region.

Extension and support services in the region in support of wood energy development are limited. These are generally under community and social forestry or agricultural extension packages which do not necessarily address the specific issues of woodfuel production enhancement through improvement of the current woodfuel production, flow and utilization systems.


Farmers lack incentives and motivational packages to adopt a wood energy development programme as a productive undertaking. Available inputs are only minimal, mostly limited to the supply of seedlings for planting. Credit and subsidy programmes do not cover the financing of commercial tree planting in private or community lands. Private sector interest in investment in single purpose woodfuel plantations for commercial motives is almost nonexistent. Support available to farmers in terms of management of existing home garden or homestead trees for sustainable production and utilization of multiple of products is rare. Different types of indirect taxes levied on woodfuel by different agencies (e.g. national and local government bodies, and social organizations), particularly during different stages of production, movement and trade, raise the market price of woodfuel, bringing it on a par with, or even more expensive than, commercial fuel substitutes.

6.2.2. Strategies for Supply Enhancement

Woodfuel Supply for Subsistence:

Enhancement of supply in rural areas, where woodfuel is yet not a traded item, will be difficult without its integration into local farming and forestry management practices. Where woodfuel is collected mostly free of charge for subsistence, no prospect exists for its commercial production in the short-run. In such a case, local people's participation in the sustainable production and utilization of woodfuel from locally available resources (mostly from existing natural forest and shrub/scrub and waste lands, as well as existing depleted natural forest and shrub/scrub lands) does not appear to possess the potential of producing additional woodfuel production. But, tree planting in community wastelands could contribute to the development of new supply sources in the form of village or community woodlots. Therefore continuation of the prevailing programme of social/community forestry, which primarily aims to promote participatory forestry development schemes, may be the most feasible low-cost strategy to meet the basic subsistence energy needs of the poor and small farming communities in rural areas.

"Joint Forest Management (JFM)", the "User Group" managed natural forests or block plantations, and many other successful forms of participatory forestry strategies should continue. They not only help local people to satisfy their basic needs, but also contribute to forest and local ecosystems protection - a serious problem for most governments.

The other strategy which may be of importance to both subsistence and traded woodfuel supply, is the continuation of traditional agroforestry practices that incorporate woodfuel production within the ongoing farming system and this should be given as much support as possible to promote its development. This strategy would ensure the supply of locally needed woodfuel by conserving supplementary production sources. And in the meantime, it will also complement the local market by making available additional woodfuel from non-forest sources, wherever opportunity exists for woodfuel trade.

Supply of Traded Woodfuel:

The demand for market traded woodfuel is also not expected to be met (at least in the short term) by the development of new supply sources in the form of large-scale woodfuel plantations. Public supply sources, particularly government managed forests, however, may still continue to be major suppliers as far as woodfuel used by institutions and traditional industries are concerned. Hence, the sustainable management of existing natural forest and plantations is necessary to at least partially meet the market demand for woodfuel. Public supply sources should even be managed from the point of view of price maintenance in the short run in order to supply the urban poor with woodfuel.

As mentioned earlier, non-forest supply sources play an important role in woodfuel markets in many countries. Therefore, considering the potential that exists for making additional income to investors from the sale of by-product wood from private trees and non-industrial plantations, these practices should be allowed to continue and should be promoted as a strategy for enhanced woodfuel production. But this strategy of additional woodfuel supply source development may only work as a component of different agroforestry practices, or under other multipurpose tree-crop based production systems (i.e. non-industrial plantations of coconut, oil palm, rubber, fruit orchards, etc.).

To successfully implement these strategies in areas where commercial trade of woodfuel is possible, private sector investment in woodfuel production should be promoted by clearing obstacles created by policy, legislation, institutions, cross sectoral implications, etc. and by supporting the free flow and trade of woodfuel from the producers to the users. The government's priority should lie not so much with imposing controls or restrictive measures, but with promoting the identification of new support services, incentives, etc. Indeed, the government should initiate large scale farms, blocks, strips or agroforestry development schemes, perhaps under a separate commercial programme package outside the influence of social forestry programmes, and provide the necessary support for their further development.

As stated, large-scale plantation programmes for wood energy may not yet be feasible for investment in Asia. Many factors, which may be acting singly or in combination as well as directly or indirectly, are responsible for the current limited success of fast growing fuelwood plantations in the region,. Furthermore, one has to ask: To meet whose demand is one trying to identify the supply sources and at what cost? These issues must be considered thoroughly when planning a strategy for wood energy development in arable lands that have competing uses.

Need for Integration:

Integration will be necessary not only between different sectors related to wood energy development (i.e. energy, agriculture, rural development, etc.), but also between the various development plans and programmes within the forestry sector (i.e. natural forest management, plantation development, social or community and private forestry development, etc.). And for the effective integration of wood energy into the policy, strategy, plans and programmes of forestry development, it will be essential for foresters to recognize the role and importance of wood energy in the national economy and environment (including in the rural socio-economy and in efforts at poverty alleviation). Such support may also contribute to sustainable utilization of forest and community lands.

The issues that persist in the forestry sector, which may be addressed through incorporating wood energy into the development policy, strategy, plans and programmes of the sector include:

· The pressure of unsustainable fuelwood collection in the designated national forests, protected areas, commercial plantations, and other environmentally sensitive areas;

· The need to enhance sustainable wood production for multiple uses through people's participation in forest protection and sustainable management;

· The problem of open grazing and fire in the forest, which are among the major causes of forest depletion - a chronic problem in virtually all forests solely managed by forest departments;

· The need to develop available waste lands and degraded forests which are easily accessible to local communities into productive, multiple use forests/plantations through afforestation, reforestation and/or natural regeneration with community participation in management and sustainable utilization.

Need for Support at National and International Levels:

So far, neither the national policy of governments in the region nor the regional and international development assistance agencies seem to consider adequately the role and prospect of the wood energy sub-sector, hence they lack a clear policy for making full use of the potentials of this sub-sector, both from the point of view of energy development and environmental conservation.

The positive benefits of an integrated wood energy development strategy include the promotion and development of private, community woodlots on private and community-owned lands that are currently not properly utilized, and the expansion of private-, farm-, and agro-forestry covered areas. Such a strategy would also support the conservation of soil, water and biodiversity. However, for this integrated strategy to be successful, a number of issues need to be addressed which impinge upon the mandates of many other sectors beside the forestry sector.

6.2.3. Recommendations

Taking into consideration prevailing wood energy systems in RWEDP member-countries, particularly the woodfuel production and flow systems (including supply sources and acquisition methods), a strategy of integrated woodfuel production in forestry development seems appropriate. Single purpose, large-scale fast-growing plantations as a strategy purely for the supply of fuelwood to the rural population seem, at this point in time, dubious. However, for the effective implementation of an integrated woodfuel production enhancement strategy, the issues raised earlier deserve immediate consideration from government agencies. Actions to be undertaken at the country level in the short-term, depending upon the local situation, may include the following:

1. Review prevailing rules and regulations and continue making amendments that govern the following: land ownership, holding size, and tree tenure; tree planting and harvesting in private and community lands; transportation and trade of wood and related products produced by the private sector or local community; use of by-products and residues from wood-based industries.

2. Recognize the role and importance of woodfuels produced in the non-forest areas and treat them as an important sub-sector which needs to be developed; remove capital cost and price subsidies, cross subsidies, etc. on commercial fuels, which may be currently acting as a disincentive to the development of renewable sources of energy (including wood energy).

3. Increase government investment and encourage community participation in woodfuel related development in those areas in which the private sector seems reluctant to invest (e.g. through community/social forestry); review peoples' existing usufruct rights and bring implementation strategies into harmony with the "care-and-share" philosophy; resolve the issue of equity in joint or community management of public resources.

4. Reform policy to induce private sector investment in wood energy development in areas wherever potentials for woodfuel trade exist, by providing support to private, community land based production enhancement, or through development of multipurpose tree plantations in public forests and leased lands; review existing direct and indirect taxes on wood and woodfuels produced in both forest and non-forest lands and make amendments in favour of making production and trade attractive for private sector participation.

5. As an immediate measure, simplify or abolish licensing and permit requirements for local production, transportation, trade and utilization of woodfuels produced by local communities or in the private sector; ensure free and open trade mechanisms for all legally produced woodfuel and related products.

6. Continue present efforts in reforestation and afforestation; promote the development of pilot scale wood energy plantations with participation of the private sector and local communities, and, wherever feasible, arrange for credit and support services during the initial stage of their establishment as a test strategy for the future development of renewable biomass fuel based decentralized energy supply systems (e.g. through gasification or densification).

7. Treat wood energy as an important, not marginal, sub-sector requiring development when planning and allocating resources for the forestry, agriculture and energy sectors; expand awareness raising programmes on wood energy development.

8. Consider infrastructure development in areas where woodfuel is already a traded item and where potential exists for supply enhancement to meet the existing and growing market demand.

9. Support R&D on the selection of fast-growing tree species for wood energy crops, the identification of appropriate provenance to match specific conditions, and the improvement of the survival and growth rate of trees planted in degraded sites and waste lands, which are all relevant in terms of enhancing private sector participation in woodfuel production.

10. Support R&D for enhancing woodfuel production under prevailing and new agroforestry systems (in both private and public lands), and support the integration of wood energy production into non-industrial plantations.

11. Support the management of existing home-garden and homestead trees to maximize farmers' benefits, as well as to enhance easily accessible woodfuel production to reduce women's hardship.

12. Integrate wood energy into rural energy supply strategies and pursue it as a common task for all relevant sectors (e.g. agriculture, forestry, industry and energy sectors), by stating it in their sectoral policy documents.

13. Encourage the use of by-products and residues from wood industries to reduce wood waste; support local adoption of conversion technologies to enhance economic benefit to woodfuel producers.

14. Initiate management of existing forests and plantations for sustainable supply of woodfuels; remove all types of prevailing restrictions to convert genuinely acquired firewood into other economically feasible forms of wood energy (i.e. charcoal, producer gas, cogeneration, etc.), by applying known technology.

15. Establish or strengthen institutions for wood energy development; design extension and investment programmes to integrate wood energy into development programmes of related sectors; expand the scope and coverage of all existing outreach programmes to include and promote woodfuel production/wood energy development.

16. Strengthen woodfuel user-producer linkages by designing and opening access to credit and support services, buy-back price guarantee, etc. to promote private sector participation in tree planting for woodfuel production; improve the current "consumer governed" woodfuel marketing system to make it "equally friendly" to the producers of woodfuel.

17. Collect and disseminate information on management of private trees and block plantations to promote woodfuel production and trade in the private sector; wherever feasible, support the formation of tree farmers' co-operatives or associations to enhance their strength in the market.

18. Establish wood energy databases at regional, national and local levels and support private and public sector agencies related to wood energy development with information; integrate wood energy subjects in training curricula of relevant sectoral education and training.

19. Eliminate inter-agency mistrust and conflict of interest particularly between the two interrelated sectors of forestry and agriculture for effective integration of agroforestry practices into the farming systems: foresters should stop being non-supportive to programmes of non-forest land oriented wood resources development programmes, and agriculturists should stop regretting the slow intrusion of tree crops into farming systems affecting national food production. These unhealthy responses will not benefit either sector and both still have to make full use of the potential for production enhancement that currently exists in their respective sectors.

20. At the regional and international level, accept wood energy as an area for development; allocate additional resources to support every aspect of wood energy development, i.e. in implementation of activities at the field and credit assistance; in support of research and development; for institution building and manpower training; etc.

Box 3 - Good News?

Urban people tend to believe that most woodfuels come from forests. It is one of the most persistent and disturbing misconceptions. Not all fish comes from the sea, not all fibres come from cotton, and not all chillies come from Chile. In fact, about two thirds of all woodfuels do not come from forests, but from agriculture and other land.

Mounting evidence shows that woodfuel use is not a general cause of deforestation. It is not even a main cause. Rather, deforestation is caused by land conversion and commercial logging in most places.

A cynic could say that deforestation is good news for woodfuel users, because they benefit twice. First, as long as deforestation goes on an abundance of wood residues becomes available for fuel. Second, when deforestation is completed most of the land is turned into plantations and agriculture, which provide more sustainable woodfuels per ha than forests do.

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