FAO’s work on Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE)
Globally, nearly 3 billion people rely on traditional biomass, such as fuelwood, charcoal or animal waste, as sources of fuel for cooking and heating. In many African countries, more than 80 percent of the population cook their meals using traditional biomass; by 2030, it is anticipated that 1 billion people in Africa will depend on traditional biomass to meet their energy needs.
Vulnerable populations – including refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the communities hosting them – often have severely constrained access to fuel and energy. Refugee and IDP camps are frequently established in fragile, sparsely forested ecosystems in which both host and displaced populations depend on the scarce natural resources found in areas surrounding the camps. The influx of displaced people and their fuel needs places great pressure on surrounding forests and woodlands. This is often a source of tension between host and displaced communities, which increases the risk of women and children being harassed and assaulted while searching for fuelwood. Furthermore, collecting fuelwood takes time away from school attendance, income-generating activities, child care and leisure and can reduce the effectiveness of other humanitarian and development programmes targeting women and children.
The lack of sufficient cooking fuel also has an impact on the nutrition and health of vulnerable households since women may resort to undercooking food or skipping meals to save fuel as well as bartering food for fuel. In these contexts, cooking is often carried out using a three stone fire in poorly ventilated spaces which exposes women and children to respiratory illnesses. Finally, both host and refugee populations frequently rely on short-term and unsustainable livelihood activities such as charcoal production and selling of fuelwood.
The diversification of livelihood activities and sources of energy – as well as the introduction and promotion of energy-efficient technologies – helps to build resilience in households and communities, allowing people to cope with and recover faster from natural or man-made shocks. FAO’s work on Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) adopts a holistic, multifaceted approach which takes into account the mutually reinforcing linkages between energy and environment, nutrition, health, gender, protection and livelihoods. This multidisciplinary approach comprises three interlinked pillars:
- Ensuring a sustainable supply of energy through mapping and assessing potential sources of fuel, the establishment and promotion of agroforestry systems which can provide fuel and food from the same land, communal woodlots and other modes of reforestation and afforestation, sustainable natural resource management as well as promoting the use of agricultural residues and other alternative fuels, including renewables.
- Addressing energy demand through fuel needs assessments, the promotion of fuel-saving cooking practices and fuel-efficient technologies for cooking and productive uses. The use of fuel-efficient stoves can save from 10 to 50 percent of the biomass which would be consumed when using a three stone fire. Fuel-saving cooking techniques include saving on water for boiling, cutting food into smaller pieces before cooking, pre-soaking hard food products before cooking, using the fire continuously, preventing the loss of steam by using lids, managing the fire and other simple procedures that can reduce the amount of wood or other biomass needed for cooking.
- Promoting sustainable livelihoods and diversifying livelihood activities in order to build resilience. The establishment and sustainable management of woodlots and agroforestry can be promoted as a livelihood activity for both men and women in addition to sustainable livelihood activities in all the agricultural subsectors.
In parallel, FAO engages in multistakeholder initiatives and fora – and plays an active role in the SAFE Humanitarian Working Group, which works to facilitate a more coordinated, predictable, timely and effective response to the fuel and energy needs of crisis-affected populations. In doing so, FAO works closely with key members – World Food Programme, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Women’s Refugee Commission and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, among others.