Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Chapter IX - Conclusions

In conformity with its objectives, this study has made it possible to assess the situation regarding fuelwood supplies in the developing countries in 1980. This assessment is necessarily only a rough one, given the abundance of 'the information to be handled and its often heterogeneous nature, and also because of the specific character of the situations to be analysed, strongly influenced by local ecological and human conditions. However, in many cases the analysis made has not only been confirmed by those with experience and direct knowledge of the situations identified, but has proved sufficient to identify the main lines of action. The first important conclusion to be drawn, therefore, is that the information available on the parameters of fuelwood supply and demand is usually sufficient to enable difficult situations to be identified and actions launched: the fuller and more detailed information that is still necessary can be gathered when the programmes of action are being designed, and not prior to this. The implication of this is important, because the time factor is critical and any delay will result in a worsening of the situation and hence the need for more expensive and larger-scale action.

However, attention must be drawn to the limits and approximations of this study, to avoid there being any ambiguity regarding the possible uses of the figures provided in the tables. This is a global study intended to illustrate the average situations in each region (region = sub-continent) regarding the balance between fuelwood supplies and needs. In making these evaluations use has been made of the most commonly accepted average figures for the productivity of the various sources of fuelwood and the needs of the populations according to their habitat and way of life. In addition, in order to identify in each region geographically representable categories of situations, it has been necessary to limit the number of categories, smooth out the contours, and ignore certain particular local situations. It is therefore risky to use the figures supplied by this study on a particular region to assess a local situation within this region, even though concern for truth and accuracy has led the authors to base their methodological approach on the most precise and detailed local analysis possible by zoning within each country.

The study covers 95 developing countries in tropical and temperate zones, for which the uniform application of a methodology based on the same concepts and classification and the same reference years has made it possible to obtain relatively homogeneous results which then lend themselves to representation on an overall thematic map. In these 95 countries fuelwood played a very significant energy role in 1980, accounting in 12 of them for nine-tenths of total energy supplies. Of these 12 countries, 9 are in Africa. More than half the least developed countries are almost totally dependent on fuelwood: and in most of the others, it is usually because of inadequate local supplies of fuelwood that the people turn to other fuels, usually plant waste. The total population involved in the study amounted in 1980 to 2.1 thousand million people. It is estimated that more than 80' percent of these either live in rural areas or have conserved a rural type of energy consumption and depend to an overwhelming extent on plant fuels, mainly fuelwood, for such elementary needs as cooking food and heating the home. Domestic needs and requirements of small rural industries constitute the bulk of the energy needs indispensable for the survival of the rural populations and of urban dwellers with low to medium incomes.

In 1980 marked symptoms of fuelwood supply difficulties were detected in all or part of 39 African countries, 18 countries in the Middle East and Asia, and 14 Latin American countries. A total of 1.15 thousand million people are affected by these situations, in which their energy needs can only be met by over-utilization of the woody vegetation, sometimes to the point of its complete destruction. In the worst situations, about 100 million people, half of them in Africa, are obviously unable to cover their minimum needs and are therefore faced with a really acute scarcity.

In many cases the situations of acute scarcity correspond to difficult climatic and ecological zones, where the shortage of fuelwood leads to the destruction of all woody vegetation, resulting in destabilization of the environment and the risk of erosion, the consequences of which are felt beyond the zone directly concerned by the energy problem. Such situations have been identified mainly in the Himalayas, and in the mountainous areas of eastern and central Africa and of Latin America. Elsewhere, in the arid and semi-arid areas of Africa and Asia, the deforestation resulting from the search for fuel makes a dangerous contribution to desertification. Finally, in the most densely populated zones of Asia and Africa, the need for fuel leads to use being made of all possible plant elements, including crop residues indispensable for fertilization. The search for fuel-wood in these scarcity zones represents a threat to the natural resources indispensable for agricultural production, and therefore directly affects the objectives of food self-sufficiency fixed by the governments of the countries concerned.

The deficit situations detected affect more than a thousand million people, who are finding increasing difficulty in meeting their minimum energy needs as regards fuelwood. They manage to meet these needs only by over-cutting the woody vegetation, and this, combined with the effects of the population growth, presents an increasing danger to future supplies. Many deficit situations are evolving rapidly towards a situation of acute scarcity. The degeneration is perceptible, but it is difficult to measure its rate, and often there is no full awareness of the situation until it has reached an almost irreversible stage. It is in the Indian sub-continent that this process gives most cause for alarm, because of the size of the populations concerned,

The study of the effect of the prolongation of present trends up to the year 2000 dramatically illustrates what is happening. In what are now situations of acute scarcity, wood will be of no more than marginal use as fuel; while the deficit situations are evolving towards real scarcity. Under the pressure of the population growth and with forest resources decreasing, new deficit situations appear in Latin America and throughout most of Africa and Asia. Because of its very dimensions the problem must constitute a major concern which goes beyond the mere problem of fuelwood supplies. What other source of energy, and at what price, would be able to replace fuelwood on such a scale and within such a short lapse of time so as to guarantee coverage of the daily energy needs of the populations concerned?

The main results of the study can be summarized as follows:

1) In Asia, some 30 million people, mainly in the coldest zones of the Himalayas, were unable to ensure their energy supply in 1980, despite over-utilization of all the wood available. Aprroximately 710 million people were in a situation of decidedly inadequate fuelwood supplies, mainly in the highly populated zones of the Ganges and Indus plains and in the lowlands and islands of South-East Asia. It is estimated that by 2000, if present trends continue, 1.4 thousand million people in this region will be living in zones where fuelwood supplies are completely inadequate to cover their minimum energy needs. The deficit might reach 500 million m³ of wood. A total of 11 heavily populated countries are mainly concerned.

2) In Africa south of the Sahara, 50 million people, mainly in the arid zones and the sparsely inhabited mountainous areas, were unable to cover their minimum energy needs in 1980, although the existing woody vegetation was over-utilized.. Approximately 130 million people, mainly in the relatively densely populated savanna zones, could cover their minimum energy needs only by over-cutting the existing vegetation. It is estimated that in this region, as a whole about 500 million people will be faced with marked fuelwood supply difficulties in the year 2000 unless present trends are modified. The deficit might reach 300 million m³ and concern 37 countries of the region,

3) . In North Africa and the Middle East the situations of fuelwood deficit concern approximately 70 million people spread over all the countries in varying degrees. On the basis of present trends, by the year 2000 about 160 million people will be affected by a deficit of over 37 million m³

4) In Latin America, about 20 million people were unable to cover their minimum energy needs in 1980, even by over-cutting the vegetation to which they had access. The zones concerned are arid or at high altitudes in the Andean region, and particularly densely populated zones in Central America and the Caribbean. About 150 million people, mainly in the rest of the Andean region, were able to cover their minimum needs only by over - utilizing the existing resources. If present trends continue, by the year 2000 the fuelwood deficit might reach 135 million m³ and affect about 340 million people in 17 countries of the region.

The study has demonstrated once again the specific nature of the situations, problems and solutions. It has resulted in a classification of the critical situations which provides a basis for reflection on the strategies and actions to be employed. This classification shows the relative importance of the various types of supplies in the various categories of situations. It therefore provides indications on the actions to be undertaken, while making it clear that a combination of actions affecting the various parameters of supply and demand will in practice always be necessary. This approach highlights three important points:

1) Even in the situations where forestry solutions seem both more difficult and less likely to have a major impact on the energy situation, they are indispensable because of their other productive and protective functions where the environment is particularly fragile.

2) Although the natural forest vegetation in all its forms constitutes the most important part of the supplies on which a high proportion of the population depends, much of it is often not accessible to the people. Very serious attention should therefore be given to the accessibility and distribution of these supplies, in fact to including the energy aspect in the management of these resources.

3) The rate at which plantations for the production of fuelwood are being established at present is clearly insufficient to have a real impact by the end of the century. Considerable acceleration is necessary in all types of tree-planting, but above all in spreading trees throughout agricultural areas. This is the most. promising measure and the one most likely to receive the support of the populations, thus decreasing the amount of effort needed.

The study has also demonstrated the extent of certain gaps in information which show how inadequate has been the attention given to the energy role of the forest resource in recent years. These gaps relate in particular to:

1) The productivity of natural formations other than closed forests producing mainly for industry: specific data on tree and shrub formations - an important source of fuel - are often lacking, and this limits assessment of the real possibilities for action and hence a serious management effort;

2) The actual area covered by non-industrial plantations and their real state and productivity;

3) The actual amounts of agricultural and industrial residues available and used for energy purposes as substitutes for or additions to wood fuels;

4) The legal, physical and economic conditions for access to the fuelwood resources, which condition the real availability of wood fuels for the population; essentially linked to specific local conditions, they seem to have attracted little attention on the whole.

It would be particularly useful to go further into these aspects, because they would provide better knowledge of fuelwood supplies and understanding of the solutions to be adopted. But they are closely linked with specific local conditions and cannot be satisfactorily grasped from a global study like this one. It is here. that this study must play its full role and draw the attention of all those concerned by the problem to the need to devote prior attention to the zones where situations of acute scarcity have been identified. In these zones the various supply parameters should be investigated more thoroughly so as to understand the problem better and analyse the feasibility of appropriate solutions. At the same time it is essential to understand the underlying causes of the degradation of supplies: urban growth, the impact of certain trends in modern agriculture, the transformation of wood fuel from a free good available to all into an important commercial commodity, the effect of the energy supply of the over-utilization of the woody resources for other agricultural or grazing purposes, the spread of uncontrolled production of charcoal, etc.

The study has therefore brought out a major point: the situation regarding fuelwood supplies is deteriorating ever more rapidly in many regions owing to the growth in population and the dependence of the people on this fuel. The actions undertaken so far are, without exception, completely inadequate. But the implications of the scarcity and the actions aimed at restoring supplies go well beyond the energy question alone, important though this is: they concern the other effects of forestry actions, whether maintenance of the conditions for productivity of the natural resources or of the conditions for life, or survival, of the populations concerned. Owing to the many aspects involved, actions to improve fuelwood supplies can stimulate and induce a dynamic development movement based essentially on active participation and assumption of responsibility by the people concerned in efforts to meet their own needs.

Awareness of the seriousness and extent of the fuelwood crisis constitutes a first step towards ensuring the commitment of all - the populations concerned, governments, the international community - to immediate, large-scale action. The fuelwood crisis is not the energy crisis of the poor; it is a particularly serious element in the energy crisis of the rural areas in the developing countries. Efforts must be made in many different fields: management of the remaining resources, even the degraded ones; planting and multiplication of trees in agricultural areas; stabilization of supplies; improvement of conversion techniques, etc. If the actions undertaken are to be successful and sufficiently massive to attain the impact required, it is indispensable to train personnel, strengthen structures, intensify applied research, instil new capacities for development and new enthusiasm in the populations concerned, and combine the efforts of various disciplines in an approach that is typically that of rural development. This is the challenge that is posed. Its scope goes beyond the energy situation and concerns the potential for expanding food production. In many cases it is already an emergency problem, calling for immediate action before the situation deteriorates so far as to become irreversible.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page