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Village industries vs. savanna forests

E.M. Mnzava

E.M. MNZAVA is the Director of Forestry of Tanzania. This article is from an FAO paper for the United Nations Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy, Nairobi, August 1981.

Rural industries in many parts of the third world run on wood. Curing tea, smoking fish, brick and pottery making, brewing and baking are typical. They are all expanding. Tanzania is an example of a country where wood-energy needs are on a collision course with the natural environment.

EXAMINING CHARCOAL QUALITY 1 ton of charcoal = 6 cubic metres of wood = rapid deforestation

The contribution of fuelwood and charcoal to total household energy needs in the developing countries has recently received considerable attention. More than one third of the world population depends primarily - some communities exclusively - on these renewable sources of energy for cooking and heating. Although no one can challenge the seriousness of this situation, quite a number of us have tended to overlook another fuelwood crisis in developing countries, i.e., the acute shortage of wood for the energy needs of village industries. Some of the industries are tobacco curing, tea drying, fish smoking and pottery. For example, while, for obvious reasons, the Government encourages rural as well as urban communities to use burnt bricks rather than cement blocks in building, little is said about the energy source, fuelwood. The same attitude more or less applies to other village industries. About 87 percent of the population live in the rural areas, depending mainly on agriculture for their livelihood. The major food crops include maize, paddy, sorghum and wheat, while the cash-crop subsector includes crops such as coffee, cotton, tobacco, tea, cashew nuts, pyrethrum and sisal. It is on some of these cash crops that a substantial number of village industries are based.

The national economy is dominated by the agricultural sector, which contributes 40 percent of the GDP and four fifths of the export trade. Agricultural production is, however, essentially subsistence agriculture. It is still being practiced on a smallholder basis, agriculture on a large scale being practiced on less than 1 percent of the total area. It involves a limited number of coffee, tea, tobacco, wheat, sugar and livestock estates owned both by the Government and private enterprises. The per caput income per year is therefore low T.Sh. 1 200 or the equivalent of about US$145 per year. The principal difficulties are population growth, a chronic shortage of fuelwood and charcoal, the villagers' attitudes, environmental degradation and soil infertility, inefficient technologies that affect land use, energy conservation and work methods, and lack of information and data.

FOREST ECOSYSTEM IN TANZANIA not exactly an ideal energy source for growing industries

In 1967 the total population in Tanzania was 11 958 654 people. The 1978 national census showed a population of approximately 17.5 million people, and a growth rate of about 3.4 percent per year. This means a doubling of the population by the year 2000. Such an increase implies a simultaneous higher demand for both fuelwood and charcoal. For instance, the present household fuelwood and charcoal consumption alone is 33.44 million m3. Corresponding figures for 1985 and 2000 are, respectively, 36.65 and 45.79 million m3 (Mnzava, 1980). However, the total potential supply for wood energy and sawntimber is only 25 million m3 per year. Virtually all of the fuelwood and charcoal supply is harvested from miombo and savanna woodlands, which are frequently poorly stocked. Mean annual increments are minimal; increments of 2 m3 per year are not uncommon. A hectare of miombo woodland, for instance, contains hardly more than 40-50 m3.

The above situation has precipitated a chronic shortage of these renewable sources of energy in many parts of Tanzania, especially in semiarid regions such as Arusha, Dodoma, Singida, Shinyanga, Tabora, Mwanza, Mara and Kagera. Fuelwood gathering is becoming progressively more difficult as forests shrink further away from population centres. A housewife may spend more than half a day searching for fuelwood. In East Africa, fuelwood-gathering round trips of up to 100 km are not uncommon. In fact, some households which have "pushed away" their forests are now forced to spend up to 40 percent of their total monthly income on fuelwood and charcoal. The situation is aggravated by the fact that, usually, few efforts are made by villagers to conserve energy, let alone use forest and agriculture residues or waste material. The general attitude of some villagers engaged in village industries is that fuelwood and charcoal are "unlimited resources": the forest will always be there. Furthermore, since much fuelwood is collected "free", it is usually not counted as a cost element in the production of, say, tobacco, This is one of the reasons why villagers rarely make any reforestation or afforestation plans for their rural industries. But the villagers have to face obvious realities: the forest is disappearing rapidly. Massive forest conservation and reforestation campaigns on the part of the Government are currently tarring place and seem to be having an effect on public consciousness.

The fuelwood and charcoal requirements of the village industries are scheduled to increase rapidly over the next five years, and almost all of the wood will be cut from natural forests. At this rate, Tanzania will soon find itself with very little forest left. It is estimated that tropical forest losses in East Africa between 1975 and 2000 are of the order of 6.5 million hectares, A more dramatic example is that of the Tabora region, an important tobacco-growing area, At the present rate of forest clearing for growing and curing tobacco (with an annual growth rate of 22 percent), 700 000 ha - or 22 percent of total woodland area - will have been cleared by the year -2000 (Temu, 1980). This means land deterioration, infertility and desertification. Reforestation under such circumstances frequently becomes difficult, and also expensive. The vicious circle is completed by an acute shortage of fuelwood and charcoal for the village industries. The situation so far discussed would have been less critical if villagers had used appropriate technologies in developing their industries. For example, tobacco growing in Tabora is based on shifting cultivation. The introduction of intensive farming technologies is desirable. The application of energy conservation techniques for processing small-scale industrial products is of the utmost importance. As stated above, there is a serious lack of information and data on village industries. One of the main obstacles is that many of the operations are carried out on a family basis, and often go unrecorded. An immediate, accurate survey of these operations is urgently needed; such a survey should naturally include fuelwood and charcoal requirements and potential supply. From such information, medium and long-term plans could then be formulated.

What, then, is the situation in Tanzania for fuelwood and charcoal requirements for tobacco curing, brick burning and pottery works, tea drying, fish smoking, local brewing, and baking?

Tobacco production and processing

Tobacco is essentially a smallholder enterprise in Tanzania. Two main types are produced: flue-cured and fire-cured, the former accounting for more than 70 percent of the total production. There are so far more than 56 500 families, with more than 339 000 people, engaged in tobacco growing. Experience has shown that in order to cure a hectare of tobacco, approximately a hectare of woodland is needed. The main indigenous species normally used for tobacco curing are: Brachystegia spp. (e,g.. B. bussed), Jubernadia, Erythophreum africanum and Afromosia angolensis; Eucalyptus spp. are among the exotics also used. In the 1979/80 season the six principal growing areas of Tanzania, involving 53 830 families on 31616 ha, used a total of 8 184000 m3 of fuelwood. It is estimated that the tobacco area will expand from 33 042 ha (in 1979/80) to approximately 42000 ha in 1985. In order to cure the 25.2 million kg of tobacco which are likely to be harvested, 3.36 million m3 of fuelwood will be required, assuming that a cubic metre of fuelwood is enough to cure 7.5 kg of tobacco leaf. It should be noted also that Tanzania has a capacity to process more than 51 million kg of tobacco annually. At present, it processes only 36 to 40 percent of this capacity, one of the major reasons being the inadequate supply of wood energy. So it is assumed that 25.2 million kg for curing and processing will be the minimum quantity in order to ensure efficiency and economic feasibility in this important and expanding industry.

To cure a hectare of tobacco requires -a hectare of savanna woodland. Tobacco growing is expanding in Tanzania at the rate of 20 percent annually, and the savanna is disappearing at that rate.

Wood scarcity is aggravated by other problems, some of which have already been touched upon. Much of the tobacco farming in Tanzania is based on shifting cultivation. The rotation varies from six to eight years. When the villager clears forest land for planting tobacco, the trees are usually completely destroyed by burning rather than stored for tobacco curing. A separate area is normally harvested, especially for the curing process. This is equivalent to burning up T.Sh. 8 750-10 500 1 per hectare at the stump, assuming that Pterocarpus angolensis is the main species cleared. Moreover, tobacco-curing barns are inefficient, and with individual households it is difficult to build bigger and more efficient ones because the costs are too high for family enterprises. Therefore, the conservation of both wood energy and the woodlands is a difficult problem.

As stated above, the natural regeneration of the forest resource in the tobacco areas is problematic. This is partly because of adverse environmental factors, as well as the inherent characteristics of some of the species involved. Moreover, the areas temporarily abandoned during the rotation period are rarely planted with trees; instead, agricultural crops - maize, millets, groundnuts, etc. - are planted. So, excessive forest clearing continues. Furthermore, savanna woodlands are the most frequently and severely burned areas in Tanzania. It is estimated that more than 65 000 ha of forest and bushland are burned every year. Such fires also destroy useful microbes and change soil properties. Leaching may result, impoverishing the soil and making forest regeneration difficult and expensive. This has been the case in the tobacco-growing area of Tabora, for example. The impoverishment of the soil, and the environment as a whole, does not only adversely affect woodland regeneration; it also reduces tobacco production. Cultivation has to be coupled with fertilizer applications at the rate of 750 kg per hectare, an expenditure of T.Sh. 1 050 per hectare (at a 50 percent subsidized rate).

1 US$1.00 = T.Sh. 8.2.

What are the possibilities of trying to improve this situation? In order to conserve wood energy, hence the forest and forest land, the following measures should be considered.

Village cooperative approach. Farmers should be advised and encouraged to produce most of their tobacco through cooperatives. That is, in addition to each household having its own barn, there should be a communal one. In this way, it would be possible to build economical and efficient barns. Moreover, instead of these barns being moved all the time to follow shifting cultivation, fuelwood transportation would be more feasible. For example, in Iringa 1 m3 (stacked) of fuelwood transported 30 km costs from T.Sh. 40 to T.Sh. 60, a price too dear for an individual farmer. Present indications are, however, that most families prefer "to go solo". So, a lot of education and public information on cooperatives are needed.

It has also been suggested that the Tobacco Authority of Tanzania, the sole tobacco buyer, should undertake the tobacco curing. This is not likely at present, since the Authority does not have enough facilities for collecting the green leaves. Moreover, some farmers are in remote areas, and leaves may deteriorate before they are cured.

Free wood

All the wood harvested by the tobacco farmers from the woodlands is "free". It is not surprising, therefore, that in most tobacco production and processing plans the cost of woo energy is negligible and frequently omitted. In order to arrive at rational economic solutions, the tobacco crop should be able to finance its own fuelwood.

In East Africa round trips off 100 km to gather fuelwood are not uncommon. Forests are receding from villages and towns. Some households spend 40 percent of their income on fuelwood and charcoal.

Brick burning and pottery

One of the policy strategies currently used by the Government is to encourage villagers to use burnt bricks rather than cement ones. The raw materials for burnt bricks are readily available within village confines and are much cheaper. The average cost of a burnt brick is T.Sh. 1.20 while that of a cement block of comparable size is T.Sh. 6. Accurate figures on households involved in brick burning and pottery making are very limited. However, tentative figures show that in 20 regions a total of 125 260 households are engaged in making burnt bricks and 68 620 in making pottery.

Let us look at the Kilimanjaro region, where the author has personal experience. In the two main brick-making districts here, Mwanga and Same, brick production is expected to go from 1.8 million bricks in 1980 to 12.17 million by 1985. The amount of fuelwood needed to burn a unit quantity of bricks is not known precisely. A survey indicated, however, that I m3 of fuelwood stacked from an indigenous forest is enough to burn lots of 185 to 660 bricks (size: 7.5 x 10.0 x 22.5 cm). Thus, the amount of wood required for burning 12.17 million bricks will be from 18 440 to 65 784 m3. However, the plains which are the major burning areas are the driest in the districts. The total annual cut for Mwanga and Same is hardly 35 percent of the above requirements. Moreover, partly because of adverse environmental factors, reforestation is proceeding slowly. A realistic solution will have to be found soon, including the possibility of reverting to using cement bricks. It is estimated that Kilimanjaro produces 450 000 to 500 000 pieces of pottery a year, mainly pots. A single household produces 115 to 130 pieces. Our survey also revealed that 1 m3 of stacked Grevillea robusta is enough to burn 20 to 25 pots under average conditions. In 1980/81, a total of 7.9 million pottery units is likely to be produced, for which a minimum of 394565 m3 of fuelwood will be needed.

Long-term programmes have to be worked out, even though the statistics available are very meagre.

Tea drying

In Tanzania, 50 percent of the tea production is on private estates, 49 percent is done by about 30 000 smallholders, and 1 percent by the Tanzania Tea Authority. Smallholder cultivation has expanded rapidly. In 1972, it accounted for only about 12.5 percent of total production, while the percentages for, say, 1976 and 1978 are 22 percent and 48 percent respectively. There are plans to improve on this village cultivation and it is estimated that by 1982 village production will reach 22 000 tons. Thereafter, there will be little expansion for five years.

The main energy used in tea processing is fuelwood, but oil and coal are also used. Under some circumstances a combination is applied: for example, at the Mponde Estates, where the ratio of fuelwood to oil is 50:50.' It is estimated that between 1976 and 1981 a total of 163 180 m3 of fuelwood will have been used for tea drying. Fuelwood consumption in this industry is currently running at about 43 600 m3 per year. Among the main tree species used for tea curing are Cephalosphaera usambarensis, Chrysophyllum spp., Newtonia buchananii, Meosopsis eminii, and Olea spp. A few plantation species are also used: Acacia mearnsii and Eucalyptus spp. Unfortunately, only a few smallholders plant their own woodlots. They primarily depend on the natural forests whose resources are rapidly receding and becoming impoverished because of their delicate nature, being located mostly in upland ecosystems.

Fish smoking

Fish smoking is becoming an important village industry in Tanzania. There are three major fishing zones: the coast, inland waters and Lake Victoria. Most of the fish caught along the coast are sold fresh, while most of the fish from inland streams and rivers as well as from Lake Victoria are smoked. For instance, in 1977 there were 65 415 tons of fish taken from Lake Victoria, of which almost 59 000 tons were smoked. In addition, it is estimated that 20 to 30 percent of all the fish taken are locally consumed and not recorded. Some of these are also smoked. Fish smoking' like tobacco curing, is mainly a family enterprise with much of the smoking done by individual households. The fuelwood and charcoal used are often obtained free of charge, from forest land within and outside the villages. Since these forest lands are not legally reserved, licensing is ad hoc; therefore, it is difficult to keep records of wood harvested.

The investigations done in the inland waters as well as at Lake Victoria indicate that a ton of fish requires 0.2 to 0.3 m3 of fuelwood or 15 to 20 kg of charcoal. The use of charcoal is minimal. It is estimated that between 1975 and 1981 about 152 000 m3 of wood will have been burned to smoke an estimated 759 000 tons of fish.

Local brewing

To date, there has been very little information collected on fuelwood and charcoal used for local brewing. Not only is brewing essentially a family affair, but some of it is of prohibited kinds of local beer and thus kept secret by the brewers. So, much of the production, including wood energy consumption, goes unrecorded. There are more than 20 types of local beer in the country and the energy required to make them is very varied. Estimating fuelwood consumption used in brewing is obviously impossible, but to illustrate the magnitude of the wood-energy problem in local brewing we need merely touch on two of the 20 brands of local beer.

Mbege brew is indigenous to the Kilimanjaro region and is made from fermenting a mixture of millet and bananas. A survey of 245 villages showed that they used 73 500 m3 of fuelwood just for brewing. This is equivalent to clear-felling 1 470 ha of savanna woodland.

TANZANIANS AND THEIR POTTERY a cottage industry of more than 68000 households

Kangara brew is common to many regions. It is made from maize and other cereals and there are about 130 villages where it is brewed and sold by shops. Just for Kangara beer, 32 175 m3 of fuelwood are cut and burned annually. All the wood comes from coastal woodlands, including the mangrove forests.

To reiterate, local brewing is so widespread that statistical forecasting of the future is impossible. Suffice to note that by all indications the industry is booming. Provisions for wood energy, therefore, have to be made. So far, there are no reforestation efforts to meet brewing needs. Moreover, established woodlots in the villages now can hardly meet the cooking needs.


There is little information existing in the villages on this subject. The following findings are therefore based on information and data collected in a few villages as well as in some small-town bakeries. Between 1975 and 1980 Tanzania grew and imported a total of 334 149 tons of wheat, of which 95 percent went into baking 915 820 000 loaves of bread. Based on the need for a cubic metre of quality fuelwood to bake 20 000 loaves, this would have required about 45 791 m3 of fuelwood. In fact, it would have been slightly less since 10 or 15 percent of the energy used in baking in Tanzania comes from electricity, petroleum and gas. The dimensions of the fuelwood needs for bread-baking are, however, clear.


There are four energy alternatives which have some potential: coal, oil or kerosene, hydroelectric power and biogas.

Coal. There are fairly rich coal-mines in the southwest of Tanzania and there are plans to mine 300 000 tons per year in the near future at the biggest coal deposit, Songwe, Kiwira. At present, the Ilima colliery is the only one operating and it produces about 7000 tons a year. The demand for coal is fairly high and is likely to be higher in the future. Therefore, coal availability in adequate amounts for local industries is questionable. For example, the newly constructed cement factory at Mbeya will use 50 000 tons per year, and the proposed pulp and paper mill at Mufindi, Iringa, will also consume a considerable quantity of coal. This is not the only problem. The cost of transport is very high. For example, a ton of coal at Ilima sells at T.Sh. 250. If this ton were to be transported to Tabora for tobacco curing (more than 500 km by rail), the price would be more than T.Sh. 700. There is, however, a big potential for using coal in tobacco curing in Mbeya and Iringa.

Oil/kerosene. All oil and kerosene used in the country are imported. The national bill for petroleum has risen from T.Sh. 760 million in 1977 to T.Sh. 2.3 thousand million in 1980 when 670 000 tons were imported. There have been attempts to use oil for industrial brick burning and tea drying, but the costs have proved to be much higher than those of wood energy. Similarly, kerosene has been considered for tobacco curing. However, it is much more expensive than wood energy, even though its calorific value is higher, about 10400 kcal/kg as compared to about 4 000 kcal/kg of some miombo wood species (Temu, 1979). It seems realistic to conclude that the use of this alternative is not practical at current prices.

Hydroelectric power and biogas. This possibility has not yet been explored at village level. Much of the electricity is still mainly for lighting and cooking. For example, it is estimated that between 60 and 80 percent (i.e., 385-514 kWh) of total electricity production will be sold in Dar es-Salaam alone this year. There is, however, an ambitious plan to expand small-scale and village hydroelectric units which will supply energy for lighting as well as for small industries. There are, at present, about 20 of these units whose capacities range from 6 to 200 kW and the total energy produced is approximately 960 kW.

Biogas, of which there are already 200 plants installed all over the country, natural gas, and solar energy should also be investigated for the village industries.

Fuelwood and charcoal will continue for several decades to be the only feasible energy source for village industries. The wood-energy crisis for local industries in Tanzania is a very real one. In order to arrest the rapid destruction of natural forests, reforestation and afforestation programmes must be expanded. Estimated fuelwood and charcoal consumption figures indicate that village afforestation should be at a rate of 15 000 to 20 000 ha per year. Actual planting is still trailing at only 7 000 to 9 000 ha annually. At the same time that the tree-planting efforts are going on, the transportation of wood from the "have" to the "have-not" regions should be seriously investigated. Wherever possible, low-cost oil-using and non-oil-using transport should be used. Road transport of fuelwood is working well in Iringa and Tabora.

The villagers must be convinced that wood energy, though relatively cheap, is a vital cost item in their village industry operations. As such, it has to be included in all their plans. And it is high time the "free wood energy" question was reviewed. All factors being equal, villagers should pay for the wood, however subsidized or nominal the costs may be. A lot of public information and extension work will no doubt be needed to change the villagers' attitude that "wood will always be around the corner". The strategy of using incentives rather than imposing our preconceived ideas should go a long way toward changing this attitude. Furthermore, if the village industries are to survive and thrive, various institutions incorporated in them must give some serious attention to fuelwood and charcoal. They must contribute funds for the development of these resources and any other assistance deemed necessary. They also must help the villagers make long-term plans, especially those for matching their energy needs with the available resources.

In the final analysis, an energy policy for village industries should be formulated. It should obviously be an integral part of the total rural energy policy which in turn is a part of the national policy.


OPENSHAW, K. 1971 Tanzania timber trends study. Project work document FD: SF/TAN 15. FAO, Rome.

TEMU, A.B. 1979 Fuelwood scarcity and other problems associated with tobacco production in Tabora region, Tanzania. University of Dar es-Salaam, Record No. 12.

MNZAVA, E.M. 1980 Village afforestation: lessons of experience in Tanzania. FAO, Rome.

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