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On the occasion of the United Nations Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy, Nairobi, August 1981, FAO was anxious to draw attention to the other energy crisis: that of fuelwood., which affects the daily energy supplies of a great many rural people in the Third World. A study was therefore undertaken for the purpose of demonstrating, the dependence of Third World populations on fuelwood as a source of energy and identifying more precisely the mergence of ever more marked deficits, on the basis of up-to-date information. The results of this study were presented in the form of a map¹ published as a contribution to the Nairobi Conference. The present report sets out in more detail the methodology followed in the study and the main results, in particular with respect to each of the major regions concerned.

¹ Map of the Fuelwood Situation in the Developing Countries, FAO, Rome, 1981.

There is no need to insist on the dramatic nature of the problem of fuelwood supplies for people who have little or no access to any other source of energy. What is probably shown in a new and striking way is the dimension of the problem, the order of magnitude of the populations affected and the size of the deficits, and also the accelerating degradation of the situations identified. It seems clear, in fact, that the deficits are expanding and increasing rapidly under the combined effects of population growth, deterioration of the natural forest resources and the absence of possibilities for replacement by other sources of energy. Unless there is a radical change in present trends, the people affected by an energy shortage due to the scarcity of fuelwood will have more than doubled by the year 2000, exceeding 2 thousand million: the deficit might then correspond to half their energy needs. Such an energy gap can hardly be accepted sociologically, economically or politically, concerning as it does the most elementary needs, such as cooking food and heating the home. To this is added the fact that the great majority of the people concerned are among the poorest. It can thus be imagined what a burden the necessity to organize emergency actions to guarantee a minimum energy supply and distribute it to people scattered over vast areas would represent for developing economies. But together with this energy gap, and even more serious, would be the often irreparable damage that the total destruction of the woody vegetation would wreak on the natural resources of vast areas with a usually fragile ecology; the desperate search for any and every kind of plant fuel to cook food might well endanger agricultural and food production capacity, owing to erosion and desertification.

The primary objective of the present report is to draw the attention of the governments concerned and of the international community to the seriousness of the problem before present trends become largely irreversible. Given the extent and diversity of the situations covered, this study is inevitably of a comparatively general nature, but it should serve to sound the alarm wherever symptoms of deficit have been detected. In many countries this should lead to governments and the public in general becoming alive to the problem of fuelwood supplies, a problem whose seriousness is often masked by its everyday and diffuse nature until the point of no return has been reached. The methodology devised for this study can be refined and used for sub - regional studies, such as the one carried out by FAO for the Sahelian region in 1982² or for national studies. In any event it will enable the specific characteristics of the problem to be more clearly identified and more concrete indications obtained on the order of magnitude and the nature of the measures to be undertaken.

² "Les disponibilités de bois de feu an région sahélienne de l'Afrique occidentale - Situation et perspectives", par M.N. Keita, FAO, Rome 1982.

In the second place this report aims at promoting a realistic view of the energy problem of most of the people of the Third World: large resources are often mobilized to conduct research into substitute energies whose novelty may be attractive, but whose stage of technological and economic development puts them quite simply out of reach for many years to come of those who are suffering from a scarcity of their daily energy supplies. All too often there is a flagrant imbalance between the resources devoted to energies which it will take a long time to develop and those devoted to sources such as wood, where the technical solutions are known and tested and which require only adaptation to specific local conditions and popularization.

The final purpose of this study is to prompt a rapid mobilization of efforts and resources with a view to immediate and large-scale action. Technical forestry solutions exist, and can provide many benefits in addition to solving the problem of fuelwood supplies: stabilization of the environment, provision of fodder, food and other products useful to domestic and rural economies. The success of these technical solutions depends, however, on the ability to adapt them to the specific needs of the people concerned, to get the people actively involved, and to make these efforts an integral part of the management of the natural resources and of the land for the benefit of the people. This illustrates the development potential of forestry programmes, whose energy role constitutes an important, but not the only, aspect.

The development potential of the solutions to the fuelwood problem constitutes the most crucial aspect, on which FAO insists and to which it devotes prior attention in its assistance to the countries concerned. The role of the forest resources in supplying energy is, in fact, an important catalyst in reorienting forestry action more directly towards rural development and the needs of the people. The multiple and direct benefits that the people can derive from these actions, and the mobilization of collectively organized efforts to achieve self-sufficiency, constitute the basis for a dynamic development which does not accentuate dependence on abroad. The productive, protective and social functions of the forest vegetation, including even isolated trees, are thus integrated in a system in which advantages for the subsistence and development of the people concerned are evident to them. Recent successes are not limited to those in the Republic of Korea mentioned in this study; but success is dependent on massive support for the diffusion of information, training and the strengthening of institutions in order to mobilize the people for actions which they realize are conducive to their own development. Mobilization of this essential support is the primary aim of the FAO Forestry and Rural Energy Programme, for which this study constitutes an important point of reference.

The study has been prepared essentially at the regional level, by the teams of the Preinvestment Survey of Forest Resources, Dehra Dun, India, and the Departamento de Manejo Forestal, Universidad Nacional Agraria, Lima, Peru, and by the following consultants: M. Baumer, J. Brookman Amissah and T. Gnrofoun. The work was devised and organized by M.R. de Montalembert, Coordinator of the study, and J. Clement, technical consultant, who prepared the final report.

M.A. Flores Rodas
Assistant Director-General
Forestry Department

Units and abbreviations commonly used in the text


= gigajoule = 109 joules


= térajoule = 1012 joules


= gigajoule/inhabitant/year


= cubic metre per inhabitant and per year


= cubic metre per year


= cubic metre per hectare and per year

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