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Woodfuels use in Ghana: social, economic and energy dimensions

A revised assessment of woodfuels use at the national level has recently been completed by Ghana´s Energy Commission and Forestry Commission, with the assistance of GCP/RAF/354/EC "Sustainable Forest Management Programme in African ACP Countries - Wood Energy Planning and Policy Development (WEPP) Component". [See under News and Notes for more information on this FAO/EC project.] It was found that woodfuels account for 78 percent of all primary energy consumption in the country, being the predominant source of energy for households, and the commercial and small industries sectors.

Charcoal is a very important energy source for households: its saturation ranges from 54 to 71 percent in urban areas and it is the main fuel for more than 1 million families. It is also a valuable commercial fuel, with an annual turnover of some US$60 million at current market prices. Assuming that 80 percent of this amount corresponds to labour payments at US$1.50 per day, its production and marketing create some 144 000 permanent jobs earning twice the minimum wage (US$0.75 per day).

Fuelwood use is dominant in rural households: more than 2.2 million families depend on it for cooking and heating, and at least 280 000 of them use it for small-scale processing activities, such as fish smoking, gari making, pito brewing, akpeteshi distillation, pottery making, oil extraction (from palm fruits, coconut, groundnut, shea butter), thus making a significant contribution to food preservation, food security and cash earnings for rural and urban people.

In addition, there are some 600 000 small-scale enterprises in commercial activities, such as chops bars, street food and grills, which depend on fuelwood or charcoal as their main sources of energy.

In the past, the Government of Ghana promoted the substitution of charcoal for LPG, distributing gas cylinders free of charge, and also subsidizing gas prices. This policy, aimed to decrease the utilization of charcoal because of environmental concerns, led to a pronounced increase in LPG consumption, which then had to be imported. Since the country could not afford the expense of foreign currency, the subsidies were terminated and many users reverted to the use of charcoal or fuelwood as they were not able to pay for LPG at real prices. The environmental impact of the substitution was not evaluated.

This experience shows that, in the absence of a comprehensive knowledge of the demand, a fuels substitution policy may lead to undesirable consequences for the national economy. On the other hand, since neither the environmental impact of charcoal use nor the potential for other mitigation policies were assessed, the chance to develop other, more cost-efficient alternatives was lost. It is clear now that woodfuels are produced and marketed with a minimum use of foreign currency. Thus, its substitution for electricity, LPG or other petroleum derivatives, would imply a huge increment in the oil bill, which peaked at US$246 million in 2000 - 16 percent of all country exports - and could increase by 50 percent if woodfuel supply is halved.

The Table below shows the approximate share of woodfuels in the energy matrix of Ghana. Since hydro resources are almost completely used by now, any future increase in energy demand will have to be met by either bigger oil imports or a wider use of biomass resources. It seems that practical options would be to increase sustainable production and/or to reduce the demand by means of higher efficiency in conversion and end use of woodfuels.

Table. Energy consumption and primary sources in Ghana, 2000


Oil and derivatives



7 838 000 MWh

1 095 000 tonnes

1 000 000 tonnes

8 200 000 tonnes


10 700 000 m3

10 900 000 m3

674 100 TOE

1 095 000 TOE

3 745 000 TOE

2 870 000 TOE





TOE: tonnes of oil equivalent.

In the face of increased demand and diminishing forest cover, the woodfuel balance has probably gone below break-even point. Current consumption has probably surpassed annual growth, as is shown in the graph (right), and may be eating into the forest reserves, aggravating the already intense pressures posed by the expansion of agricultural areas.

Realizing that sound and complete information is essential for policy formulation, the Government of Ghana is currently undertaking a National Woodfuels Use Survey within the frame of the Strategic National Energy Plan supported by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA). The survey will cover households, small industries, commercial and public establishments countrywide, gathering data on specific consumption, end uses, sources, prices and environmental impacts of woodfuels. The main purpose is to build a database upon which the probable impact of policy measures may be assessed. It is also expected that this survey will be repeated at suitable intervals in order to detect changes and trends in patterns of woodfuel use and production. (Contributed by: Enrique Riegelhaupt, Consultant, Wood Energy Programme, FAO.)

For more information, please contact Miguel Trossero at the address given on the first page.



Wood energy overview

Mr Eric Ofori-Nyarko, Ghana Energy Commission, presented two papers at the FAO/UNEP Regional Workshop on Wood Energy Information in Africa.

1. Ghana's wood energy sector

In this paper, Mr Ofori-Nyarko discussed the rapid increase in woodfuel consumption in Ghana (from 15.9 million m3 to 20.6 million m3, i.e. 30 percent in ten years) and the serious supply and demand imbalance, which was the cause of an alarming depletion of natural vegetation, particularly the savannah woodlands in the Brong Ahafo region.

He stressed that woodfuel data were scarce and often unreliable, making planning activities and impact assessment extremely difficult. He indicated that the main critical issues were difficult substitution of woodfuel with other fuels (LPG, kerosene and electricity) owing to high direct or indirect costs; unreliable supply; inefficient promotion and dissemination of improved stoves; and weak woodfuel policies, which failed to address current problems.

He suggested remedial measures, such as the development of institutional capacities within the Forestry Commission and Energy Commission; the preparation of a woodfuel resources development plan based on realistic production and demand assumptions; the realization of reliable inventory data on sustainable supply and on consumption; and the development of policies aimed at the successful promotion and dissemination of energy-saving stoves and favouring fuel substitution.

Ghana's forest resources are subject to many pressures and therefore there is a need to consider long-term resource management options. As throughout sub-Saharan Africa, deforestation and degradation resulting from increased population pressure, agricultural encroachment, uncontrolled and wasteful fuelwood harvesting including inefficient charcoal production are common. According to FAO statistics, charcoal and fuelwood consumption in 1988 was estimated at 15.9 million m3. In 1998 this figure increased to 20.6 million m3, an increase of roughly 30 percent within a ten-year period. This implies that the per capita woodfuel consumption is now close to 1 m3 per capita per year.

Woodfuel supply and demand patterns are seriously unbalanced in rural areas. Denudation has occurred in large areas of the savannah surrounding towns and villages in the Brong Ahafo, Northern, Upper East, Upper West, Central, Greater Accra and Volta regions of the country. Deforestation is also serious in the closed forest areas of the Ashanti, Western, Eastern and parts of Brong Ahafo regions.

The government has become increasingly concerned about the need for concerted action to preserve the country's woodfuel resources. Its stated objectives are: a) to manage the woodfuel resources by methods ensuring improved productivity, efficiency in transformation and distribution; and b) efficient use of these resources through the promotion of improved end-use devices and best practices. However, data on woodfuels are very scarce and, where available, not very reliable, thus making it very difficult to undertake relevant planning activities and environmental impact assessment activities on woodfuels use.

The Energy Commission, a public institution recently established by an Act of Parliament and given the statutory mandate to manage and regulate the utilization of energy resources in Ghana, is considering measures to develop and recommend national policies for the efficient and cost-effective utilization of the woodfuel resource. For the development of sustainable woodfuel policies, the commission would need to update and reorganize the existing woodfuel data.

Woodfuel resources

Woodfuel production in Ghana is mainly associated with three major ecological zones: the rain forest; the moist deciduous forest; and the savannah woodland. The total forest cover, according to FAO statistics (1995), is stated as follows:


Woodfuel supply and consumption

The main participants in the woodfuel trade are the producers, transporters, merchants (intermediaries and dealers), retailers and consumers. Woodfuel supply in the three ecological zones in Ghana is shown in percentages in Table 2.


Ecological zone

Regional share (%)

Ecozone (%)



Brong Ahafo 50.7


Eastern (Afram) 14.6



Northern 6.9


Volta 4.0


Upper West 2.1


Upper East 0.3


Deciduous forest

Volta 5.0


Central 4.5



Ashanti - Sawmills 2.2


- Others 1.8


Eastern 1.0


Rain forest

Western 5.9


There is an indication that about 50 percent of the woodfuel supply is from the Brong Ahafo region while 79 percent of the total supply comes from the savannah zone. The deciduous forest provides about 15 percent of the woodfuel supply.

In terms of consumption, households are major consumers of woodfuel in Ghana; little woodfuel is consumed by the commercial and industrial sectors. Exports of charcoal fuel to the United Kingdom in 1988 accounted for 210 tonnes. The export of charcoal to Europe is alleged to have been on the increase under the trade policy of non-traditional exports.

A comparison of the data from FAO and the Ministry of Mines and Energy on woodfuel production and consumption from the period 1980-1994 indicates that there has been a tremendous increase in the consumption of woodfuels (see graph below).

The FAO source of woodfuel consumption from the above graph depicts two critical periods (1982-1984 and 1991-1994). The graph shows that sharp increases occurred in woodfuel consumption. Although no serious analysis of the data has been carried out, it is assumed that some changes in socio-economic factors might have occurred within these periods.

Woodfuel retailing

In regional capitals woodfuel, especially charcoal, is delivered to the markets and to major retail outlets in towns where there are no big markets. Direct sales are carried out from trucks to households, but only to a very small extent. Wholesale of charcoal is carried out at these market centres where retailers and individual consumers obtain their supplies or consignments. In residential areas, small-scale retailers, mostly women, retail charcoal in small measuring units equivalent to one kilogram.

Critical issues

Proposed measures for meeting the current woodfuel demand

2. National arrangements and capacity to collect wood energy information and statistics

In the second paper, Mr Ofori-Nyarko explained that liaison and coordination among institutions involved in collecting wood energy data were very weak. He explained that the Forestry Commission and the Energy Commission both had the mandate to develop policies for the sustainable utilization of the resources, i.e. forests and energy, respectively; however, in the case of wood energy there was an overlap. He indicated that both commissions were currently building human capacities and developing programmes for the creation of a comprehensive database on woodfuel resources, production and consumption. He said that the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME), the Energy Commission and the Forestry Commission were the institutions responsible for the compilation and storage of data on woodfuel consumption, with the recently established Energy Commission building up a more important role in this context.

Mr Ofori-Nyarko added that the energy sector was also receiving support from DANIDA, which included the collection of data on woodfuel supply and consumption in the northern part of the country. He described the methods that the Energy Commission intended to adopt and the activities it intended to carry out in order to fill the information gap in this sector.

The energy sector of Ghana is currently undergoing reform. This is aimed at achieving greater transparency in the decision-making process. Woodfuel use, however, constitutes one of the key issues to be addressed in this reform process.

Despite the important role that woodfuels play in meeting household energy needs in Ghana, data on woodfuels are very scarce and, where available, not reliable, thus making it very difficult to undertake relevant planning and environmental impact assessment activities on woodfuels use.

Institutional arrangements

There are neither serious institutional arrangements nor any effective coordination among various institutions involved in woodfuel resource management in Ghana.

Institutional roles and capabilities

The Forestry Commission was established by law in 1984. It was assigned the responsibility, among other things, to:

Similarly, the Energy Commission, established by an Act of Parliament in 1997, was given the statutory mandate to regulate, develop and manage the efficient utilization of energy resources including woodfuels in Ghana and to coordinate policies relating to them.

The Energy Commission, in its present efforts to develop sustainable national energy policies for the production and utilization of indigenous energy resources, has identified woodfuel resource management as an area that needs immediate attention.

Both the Forestry Commission and the Energy Commission are currently building the personnel planning capacity and developing programmes for the creation of a comprehensive database on woodfuel resources, production and consumption.

Institutions responsible for the acquisition of data on woodfuel consumption

The Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME), the Energy Commission and the Forestry Commission are responsible for the compilation and storage of data on woodfuel consumption. MME had complied woodfuel consumption data from 1974 to 1997, but these data are based primarily on projections. Although the Forestry Commission has carried out some surveys on woodfuel consumption, it has no data. The Energy Commission now has the responsibility of data compilation and storage.

The Energy Commission has in place an Energy Resource Planning and Policy Division with three analysts whose duties include the compilation, storage, analysis and interpretation of woodfuel data. There is also the Energy Fund, which is being managed by the commission for activities that include data collection and database management on all forms of energy, including woodfuels.

The energy sector is currently benefiting from a DANIDA-funded project on traditional and renewable energy, as part of project activities, that is supposed to collect data on woodfuel supply and consumption in the northern parts of the country.

The commission intends to carry out surveys in 2001 that will target the collection of data on woodfuel consumption in households and commercial sectors. In this process, enumerators will be used and will visit households and commercial business centres to assess the quantities of woodfuel consumption. Woodfuel consumption surveys will be carried out once every two years.

The parameters will include the following: location (km), socio-demographic and economic (characteristics), cooking habits (frequency), fuel used (kg), fuel cost (¢), types of end-use device (efficiency percentage rating), and conservation practices (characteristic cost saving).

Institutions responsible for the acquisition of data on woodfuel supply

The Forestry Commission and the Energy Commission are responsible for the acquisition of woodfuel supply data. The efforts of the Forestry Commission are not known. However the Forestry Commission is prepared to enter into any collaborative activities with the Energy Commission. The Forestry Commission, its staff and the personnel of other agencies such as the Forestry Department and Forest Research Institute of Ghana are prepared to assist in the collection of data. However, their sources of funding are basically from donor assistance.

The Energy Commission intends to identify all woodfuel market centres in the country and collect data on woodfuel supply. Members of the Woodfuel Association will be invited to participate in providing information relating to sources of woodfuel supply and other relevant issues. The commission will probably contract the services of data collection to personnel in each region, who will go round the markets to collect data for submission to the commission. It is intended that the personnel engaged in the regions will be assigned the responsibility of woodfuel supply data collection and will submit data on a monthly basis to the commission.

The parameters will include the following: location of market (km), storage facilities (adequacy), source of supply (km and frequency), price/volume/quantity of sale (¢, bags and kg), taxes (¢), quality of product (grade), and retailers (size).

Institutions responsible for analysis of supply and demand balances and forecast of future scenarios

The Energy Commission's Energy Research Planning and Policy Division is responsible for the preparation of the energy balance and prediction of future scenarios of woodfuel supply and demand of the country.

The resources indicated above are the same resources that would be used for the preparation of the energy balance. In addition, computers have been installed with a database which will soon be created. Working groups from other stakeholder institutions, such as the Forestry Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Statistical Service, will be formed to discuss and evaluate the scenarios.

The Energy Commission reports directly to the Office of the President and advises the Minister of Mines and Energy on energy matters. However, the preparation of the National Energy Plan will require that national forums be held to discuss newly developed energy policies with the public.

For more information, please contact:
Mr Eric Ofori-Nyarko,
Analyst-Energy Utilization and Resource Management, Energy Commission,
Accra, Ghana.
Fax: +233 21 660718;
e-mail: [email protected]

[An electronic version of the Proceedings of the FAO/UNEP Regional Workshop on Wood Energy Information in Africa is available from the Publications page of the Forest Energy Forum Web site: www.fao.org/forestry/fop/fopw/energy/public-e.stm ]