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INDC’s shed light on the need to address sustainable bioenergy in Africa: Rwanda at the forefront

27/02/2018


In a recent review, FAO identified that 41 out of 54 countries in Africa included at least one policy or measure on more sustainable use of bioenergy in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Considering the critical role of sustainable bioenergy in sub-Saharan Africa, FAO’s energy team is developing a project with the Government of Rwanda to define which biomass energy strategies are the most appropriate.  

“Unsustainable use of woody biomass is currently an important and dominant source of bioenergy in Rwanda but additional sources like residues from crop production and livestock may offer a viable alternative” explained Manas Puri, a sustainable energy expert working on the project for FAO’s Energy team.

Mr. Puri went on to describe how the main reason why sustainable bioenergy is still finding a foothold in the country is due to the lack of effective analysis carried out to identify bioenergy pathways suitable to the Rwandan context.

FAO have already supported a number of countries through the Bioenergy and Food Security approach (BEFS) and associated tools. The work carried out in Egypt and Turkey showed which bioenergy chains are potentially the most profitable and where the different feedstock sources are located. The bioenergy value chains that were analyzed included crop and livestock residues to produce heat, power or combined heat and power (CHP).

Seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by countries under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. SDG 7 focuses specifically on energy, recognizing the importance of access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. The INDC’s have revealed countries commitments to achieving this goal, reinforcing interlinkages between climate change, agriculture and energy. Energy access remains limited in much of sub-Saharan Africa and defining sustainable energy access pathways that do not exacerbate climate change is key.  These decisions are intrinsically linked to countries’ agriculture and forestry sectors as many African countries depend heavily on traditional bioenergy to satisfy their energy needs.

In fact, sixty percent of the total energy use in Sub-Saharan Africa is sourced from biomass, and four out of five people rely on the traditional use of solid biomass, mainly fuelwood, for cooking. The strategies to build greener energy access pathways have been defined in the INDCs of these countries and the use of sustainable biomass plays a crucial role.

Rwanda’s commitments to sustainable bioenergy are clearly reflected in its Green Growth strategy and in its INDC. The country is striving to achieve energy security and a low carbon energy supply that supports the development of green industry and services. Rwanda currently relies heavily on traditional biomass for energy production (85 percent of energy is from biomass), but deforestation rates are becoming unsustainable. The limited energy options available in Rwanda today result in it having one of the lowest rates of access to sustainable energy. The country also has one of the lowest per capita electricity consumption rates in the world (42 kWh per annum) with a high dependence on fuelwood. This lack of modern energy means limited use of modern agricultural practices such as irrigation which can result in suboptimal yields, directly impacting food security and the socio-economic development of farmers.

The dependence on wood fuel and charcoal also has severe health related impacts on the population as well as on the nation’s forest cover. Currently, the average household uses around 1.8 tonnes of firewood a year to satisfy its cooking needs and as a result Rwanda lost 37 percent of its forest cover (around 117 000 ha) between 1990 and 2010.

The areas of focus in Rwanda’s INDC include:

  1. Focus on reducing the use of imported fossil fuels to produce electricity.
  2. Increased use of hydro power, methane and solar power
  3. Promotion of environmentally sustainable use of biomass fuels
  4. Scaling up resource efficiency to reduce the energy demand in agroprocessing industries (specially tea and coffee)
  5. Application of a sustainable charcoal value chain to reduce the demand of wood in charcoal production.

FAO’s support in carrying out assessments and analysis of bioenergy value chains in Rwanda will help in the identification of crop or livestock bioenergy chains that are potentially the most profitable and sustainable for the country.