Wood energy sources and users are typically scattered over a wide geographical area. This situation is very different from coal or oil products, which come from one or a few sources only, such as a harbour, refinery, etc. Like other fuels, woodfuel is a commodity serving the users, but it is much more than that. Numerous different sources, actors, routes and markets are involved in the woodfuel flow system, and under a variety of local conditions they provide for the production, harvesting, processing, trading, transporting and retailing of the fuel. Thus woodfuel is a far more complex commodity than any conventional fuel. Indeed, the woodfuel business is somewhat unique in that it has many intricate linkages with the rural society and economy.
Studying the flow of woodfuels helps us to understand the socio-economic linkages and appreciate the real problems of this most important energy source. In Sri Lanka as in many other countries in Asia, woodfuel provides more than half of the country's energy. As such it is worth the attention of policy makers in various sectors, which include forestry, energy, agriculture and several other sectors.
Although the findings of Prof. Anoja Wickramasinghe refer to Kandy District in central Sri Lanka, her main conclusions are not unique to that area, and indeed point to many problems that are shared by other countries in the region. These include impediments to woodfuel harvesting and trade, the lack of encouragement to farmers to produce woodfuel for the market, the restricted but important role of women in the harvesting and processing of woodfuels, the male dominance in the commercial flow, and the adverse impacts on state revenues. The best way to improve the current situation would be to promote woodfuel as an easily tradable commodity. Similar conclusions have been reached in other woodfuel flow studies.
Prof. Wickramasinghe's report is one in a series of RWEDP woodfuel reports on woodfuel flows. Others include 'Woodfuel Flows: An overview of four studies' (RM No. 30); 'Woodfuel in the Philippines - Production and Marketing, Baguio City' (RM No. 41); and 'Woodfuel Flow Study of Phnom Penh, Cambodia' (FD No. 50). There are also various RWEDP workshop reports on the subject. However, the Sri Lanka study is the first one to focus on the gender aspects of woodfuel flows. The results suggest that such a focus can provide a more comprehensive understanding of the issues at stake, including the health risks to which women are subjected.
It is a pleasure to thank Prof. Anoja Wickramasinghe and her colleagues, Mr. Tara Bhattarai and Mr. Conrado Heruela of RWEDP, and the numerous people who cooperated in the local interviews. Their efforts have resulted in a document that is highly relevant to policy makers and scholars alike.
Dr. Willem S. Hulscher,
Chief Technical Advisor,