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Executive summary


Woodfuel is the primary source of energy in rural Sri Lanka but in the industrial sector consumption of woodfuel is limited to 18.2% of the total energy consumption. The ways in which woodfuel is distributed from production sources to the end users are little understood. Indeed the national wood energy picture currently available reveals little about woodfuel flows, particularly about gender related patterns of engagement in woodfuel related activities and other gender issues, or about the flow mechanisms that have a direct bearing on the commercial trade in woodfuel. Our limited understanding impedes our ability to plan and formulate strategies of local significance, to promote cash returns from woodfuel to both men and women equitably and efficiently, and to contribute to improving the living standards of those who are engaged in the woodfuel distribution process without remuneration or with only marginal benefits. Investigations covering the local situation are essential to identify local priorities of national and regional significance.

This manuscript presents the findings of a study conducted in Kandy district, Sri Lanka. Kandy district, according to previous studies, is a woodfuel deficit area. The national scenario constructed during the preparation of the Forestry Sector Master Plan (FSMP) in 1995 shows that the national demand for biofuel is about 9.1 million tonnes whereas the supply is about 9.8 million tonnes. In fact, Kandy district, like many others, reflects the crucial imbalances prevailing locally. Kandy is noted with its 57,990 hectares of land under homegardens, 58,490 hectares under tea, 6,020 under coconut, 3,860 under rubber, all of which contribute significantly to woodfuel production.

From the perspective of studying the gender aspects of woodfuel flows a wide range of situations has been taken into consideration. The first is the widespread phenomenon pertaining to free gathering for self-consumption. The second is the multiple production systems that cater for the local commercial woodfuel demand, particularly in the rural areas. The third is the flow of commercial woodfuel mainly from the producing areas outside the district to Kandy urban area.

The research was conducted by selecting Kundasale area, one of the administrative divisions of Kandy district, and the Kandy urban area where urban woodfuel depots are located and the commercial woodfuel business is concentrated. The study conducted in Kundasale area has enabled an examination of the activities pertaining to free gathering and the commercial flow of woodfuel mainly from local resources for local industries from the perspective of gender. The urban study has enabled an examination of the gender relations and the flow mechanism linking external suppliers and urban woodfuel depots, and urban depots and end users. The major findings of the study are presented in the following sections.


The total number of households covered in this study is 105. Fifteen households each were selected from 7 villages. All 105 households depend on fuelwood for domestic cooking, all depend on free gathering and a few partly use commercial fuelwood and substitutes. The flow mechanism includes a number of activities such as harvesting, trimming and cross- cutting, bundling and carrying, splitting, and gathering deadwood. All households reported using multiple harvesting sources, but not all households use all sources. While all households use homegardens, only 89 use fences/hedges, only 14 use other household lands and only 14 use non-household lands. This gave a total of 222 household records of use of the various sources. The involvement of men and women (not differentiating between joint or separate involvement) in the activities comprising the flow mechanism was investigated taking into account all four production sources. About 95% of the 222 records showed women to be involved in harvesting, while for men the figure was about 44%. For trimming and cross-cutting the figures are 31% for men and 100% for women. For bundling and carrying the figures are 26% for men and 100% for women. For splitting wood the figures are 43% for men and 97% for women. For gathering and carrying dead wood the figures are 8% and 100% for men and women, respectively.

This general overview reflects that among all activities, men's involvement is fairly high only in harvesting and splitting. In contrast, women's involvement is consistently high in all activities. The domination of women in the procuring of woodfuel for self-consumption points to the fact that the non-commercial flow is heavily associated with women's reproductive responsibilities and the conventional ideology which regards women as responsible for providing fuel for the home.


The commercial woodfuel in rural areas is for rural industries such as bakeries, the pottery industry, lime and brick kilning. The commercial flow of woodfuel is mainly from saw mills and household production systems, primarily homegardens. Trading and transporting are the two activities in the mechanism that take place between sawmills and industries. These are completely dominated by men. Delivery is by hand carters, tractors and lorries, which are considered beyond the domain of women's work. Although the number of households providing woodfuel for commercial channels was limited to 15 (nearly 14%), another 28 (26%) mentioned that they also contribute when trees are felled for timber and tree pruning is done at a stretch in homegardens. The commercial flow is dominated by men. Right from the level of trimming, cross-cutting and stacking, in the activities done at the sites where wood is harvested, men select the wood of market potential, women provide free labour as 'helpers'. Trade and transportation are attended to by men. None of these activities are free from the conventional ideology about the masculine and feminine nature of work. Men, with their greater mobility, are engaged in the work dealing with trade, transportation and cash transfer.


The rural trading system is rather complex. The system consists of producers, contractors, tree buyers, traders and transporters who undertake trading as well. The involvement of intermediaries depends heavily on the location of supply sources, woodfuel types and personal contacts with the buyers. An important role is played by hand carters who provide the cheapest mode of transport for the consumers. The earnings of various intermediaries vary widely. A generalized picture is that of the total amount paid by industries in rural areas, nearly 18-27% goes to hand carters while the producers' share is in the range of 73-82%. As earnings from woodfuel are low, it is not considered a profitable income venture. When whole trees are sold directly to the traders no extra payments are made to the producers for the parts traded as woodfuel. Trees are valued in terms of timber so there are no additional payments for the woodfuel. This implies that in the system of tree trade, fuelwood is a by- product only, so no value is added for the standing fuelwood segments. The general practice of free gathering of branchwood, twigs etc. as fuelwood affirms that fuelwood is often seen as a by-product of trees.

The rural woodfuel trading system is informal and influenced by the demand for specific woodfuel types like round wood, split wood, logs, wood sticks etc. and their availability. None of the flow mechanisms add to the price given to the producer. It has been noted that it is slightly cheaper for industrial users to purchase woodfuel stocks from the suppliers and pay for the transportation rather than wait for doorstep delivery. The intermediaries engaged in trading and transportation do not make an exceptionally high profit. As hand-carts are owned by carters, they make a living out of it. As most of the tasks like harvesting, trimming and cross-cutting are attended to by household members the involvement of hired labour is minimal. Paid labour is often engaged when activities like high level branch pruning, and tree felling take place. Fuelwood from sawmills comes as a by-product, so no extra labour is employed. This implies that income from fuelwood sales earned by mills is quite similar to the returns for the homegarden fuelwood, and it is an additional income. It is difficult to simplify the local flow mechanisms and rural trading system because these are situation specific.


Urban woodfuel flow mechanisms fully cover the trading system. This system is completely different from the trading system in the rural sector because it is interregional, it involves large scale trading and a delivery system from urban fuelwood depots to end users is also well marked. It was found that of all the woodfuel which comes to Kandy urban area nearly 76-88% goes to the consumers through fuelwood depots. All 11 fuelwood depot owners interviewed in this study are major intermediaries between supply sources and consumers. The woodfuel flow process can be characterized as consisting of two main divisions, the first involving the flow between the producers and urban wood depots where processing/splitting takes place, and the second involving the flow between the urban wood depots and the end users, and where another set of intermediaries is engaged.

Fuelwood is transported from the dry zone areas and rubber growing areas. In both cases forest wood and rubber wood is transported in large volumes and is mainly conveyed by lorries. Split wood from wood depots is delivered by bullock carts. Coconut husk is transported from rural areas to urban areas on a small scale by bullock carts.

The price paid for doorstep delivery per 1 kg of split wood is about Rs 2.40. The price at a production site varies tremendously according to size of logs, type and straightness etc. At the production sites the price received by the producer is about 0.31-0.43 cents. This implies that only about 13-18% of the price paid by the consumer goes to the producer, and the remaining 87% gets fragmented in the process. For good quality cross-cut wood nearly 0.90 cents is paid per kilogram at wood depots. Between contractors and urban fuelwood depots nearly 27% of the end price remains. At the wood depots where splitting takes place 56% of the price remains. Nearly 17% remains in the last segment related to retail deliverers, i.e. the carters. Among all intermediaries urban wood depots receive the highest returns for their involvement and 30-37% of the end price goes directly to the depots.

The outstanding feature here is the male-dominated mechanism. No women are involved in the trade, in processing and in the delivery system. Fuelwood trade is not conventionally accepted as women's work. The flows of fuelwood for self-consumption and commercial use reflect two contrasting situations. Although the domestic sector is the largest consumer, the large-scale flow patterns with profit making intermediaries are in the commercial woodfuel trade in the urban setting.


The commercial woodfuel flow, or the woodfuel trade, has to pass through a number of impediments. The most crucial ones are associated with state regulations on harvesting trees and transporting the fuelwood of some species like jak and forest wood. The adverse affect of these regulations is that transportation is controlled by permit holders, so neither the producers nor the end users can play a key role in making decisions. As harvesting permits are not valid for transportation, another cumbersome process has to be followed to get transport permits. Rather than going through such difficulties fuelwood is sold to illegal transporters who pay a relatively low price. In such situations the transportation cost is relatively high because the transporters secretly charge for the risk factor too. As a result of these conditions women are rarely engaged in the woodfuel trade, and they rarely consider the fuelwood trade a potential means of improving their income and earning opportunities. To help improve women's livelihood from the woodfuel business well-targeted policies need to be introduced to promote woodfuel as an easily tradeable commodity. These would also motivate women to adopt woodfuel conservation measures and woodfuel saving devices.

On the one hand state policies, mainly woodfuel-related legislation, do not encourage farmers to produce fuelwood for the market. But on the other hand, such policies do not generate more revenues for the government. The income earning potential of fuelwood is not considered seriously by producers, mainly because it cannot be traded openly. For many, fuelwood is only a by-product and not a prime income source. The problems of inefficient, informal and irregular transportation are connected partly with the state regulations.

In the process of commercial woodfuel flow, women's roles are marginal, so the benefits of the trade are directly reaped by men. At local, national and regional levels, the goals of empowering women and improving their socio-economic status must be integrated into the policies and programmes related to wood energy development. 'Woodfuel trade' needs to be considered as a means to provide women with income earning opportunities. To achieve the broader goals of gender equity, a Regional Advocacy Network, 'RAN' is proposed under the umbrella of the RWEDP. The 'RAN' will take the initiative to help organise national networks. Further research is recommended to plan for the creation of the necessary institutional arrangements.

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