Cover Image
close this bookReversing the Spiral - The Population, Agriculture, and Environment Nexus in Sub-Saharan Africa (WB, 1994, 320 p.)
close this folder4. The Nexus of population growth, agricultural stagnation, and environmental degradation
View the documentThe main linkages
View the documentTraditional crop cultivation and livestock husbandry methods
View the documentLand and tree tenure systems and the Nexus
View the documentDeforestation, fuelwood, and the Nexus
View the documentLogging
View the documentNotes
View the documentAppendix to chapter 4

Deforestation, fuelwood, and the Nexus

In arid and semiarid areas, the need for woodfuel is a major cause of the reduction in tree cover Excessive lopping and felling, combined with poor regeneration capability, have set in motion a downward trend that has been sharply accelerated by prolonged periods of drought and by increasing livestock on young regrowth. In many areas woodfuel extraction considerably exceeds natural regrowth. Fuelwood shortages in fact limit the "carrying capacity" of arid and semiarid West Africa more than do low crop and livestock yields (Gorse and Steeds 1987:13,28).

Woodfuels are the staple source of household energy, with 90 percent of all households using them for cooking, the main end-use of energy in Sub-Saharan Africa (Barnes 1990a). Some agroprocessing and rural artisanal and semi-industrial activities (such as fish smoking, tobacco curing, shea nut processing, pottery, brick making, smithies, distilleries, beer brewing) also use considerable quantities of woodfuels. In Malawi, 100 kg of firewood are used to cure 3-12 kg of tobacco, in Cd'Ivoire, 100 kg of wood are used to smoke 66 kg of fish (Dankelman and Davidson 1988). In many countries, woodfuels are used in industrial production as well (tanneries, cigarette and match production, breweries, tea factories). In the early 1980s, wood accounted for over three- fourths of total energy supply in thirteen of SSA's sixteen least developed countries (de Montalembert and Clement 1983). In urban areas, charcoal is partly replacing wood.

The fuelwood problem is a function primarily of population density and of agroclimatic and vegetation zone and is, therefore, very region and location specific A 1983 FAD study (de Montalembert and Clement 1983) identified the regions where people faced acute fuelwood scarcity or deficits. Populations facing "acute scarcity" were defined as those in areas where energy requirements could not be met even by taking wood on a nonsustainable basis or by making use of animal waste. Populations facing a fuelwood "deficit" are those in areas where fuel needs were met by taking wood on a nonsustainable basis. The most vulnerable areas include the arid and semiarid zones south of the Sahara as well as eastern and southeastern Africa and the islands and mountainous regions Fuelwood deficits were identified in the savanna regions of West, Central, and East Africa. The number of people affected by fuelwood shortages, already large, is expected to increase steadily:

· The arid regions face the most severe problem—with the woodfuel scarcity, rather than food production capability, imposing the more stringent limit on the land's carrying capacity

· In the more densely populated savanna zone, only 25 to 50 percent of total fuelwood needs can be met from annual regrowth; conditions for tree regrowth are generally favorable, but rapid population growth is causing problems

· In the less densely populated savanna, supply is still adequate for the resident population, but needs could rapidly outstrip supply in the absence of appropriate interventions.

· In Central Africa, with tropical forests and low population densities, woodfuel supplies are likely to be adequate well into the next century. However, increasing rates of cutting are contributing to deforestation and the resulting environmental problems.

· The coastal strip along the Gulf of Guinea has excellent conditions for tree growth, and tree plantations are widespread. Fuelwood supply is adequate, but this will change in the near future, especially around the large and rapidly growing urban concentrations.

· The densely populated highlands of eastern Africa already face woodfuel deficits. Reforestation efforts in Burundi and Rwanda, though rather successful, have been unable to keep pace with demand growth.

In 1980, eleven countries faced negative fuelwood supply-demand balances: Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, The Gambia, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Rwanda, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Uganda (Table A-21). By the end of the century, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Zimbabwe are expected to join this list Since a significant switch to other fuels is not likely or possible in the short to medium teen, population growth translates almost directly into a growth in demand for wood fuels (except to the extent that fuel efficiency is improved) Yet continued reliance on woodfuels is clearly threatened m many regions by unsustainable exploitation.

Over time, urbanization on will facilitate a switch to nonwood fuels, but urban Africa still depends very heavily on wood. Woodfuels are the fuel of the poor, including the urban poor. In many cities, as much as 90 percent of all households use woodfuels for cooking. Fuelwood prices in urban areas are high and rising In some cities spending on fuelwood now claims up to 20 percent of the income of poor households. Urban demand for woodfuels has been far more destructive of forest resources than rural fuelwood gathering, mainly because of inappropriate policies. Rapid urban growth has led to intense cutting of wood on a large scale around cities and along major roads. Wood is brought from considerable distances, charcoal from even farther, and there are steadily widening rings of deforestation around cities such as Ouagadougou, Dakar, and Niamey. Woodfuels are supplied to major cities in eastern Africa such as Mogadishu from as far as 500 km away.

Transport costs and trade margins account for most of the cost to urban consumers, and the cost of trucking woodfuels to urban markets is the main determinant of the distance from which wood fuels are brought. Where motor fuels are priced well below world market levels, as in Nigeria, the effect is to extend drastically the distances over which trucking of woodfuels to urban centers is profitable, and the impact even on distant forest resources is particularly severe. Woodfuel prices to "producers" (usually collectors or exploiters of forest resources, rather than actual producers) tend to be extremely low, often as low as 5 to 6 percent of the urban consumer price. This provides no incentive to produce fuelwood commercially. Given the wide spread between the stumpage price and the consumer price, higher stumpage fees, providing incentives for more-efficient harvesting and for fuelwood production, would have little impact on urban consumer prices (Barnes 1990a).

The commercialization of the urban fuelwood and charcoal economy has increased the utility of rural fuelwood sources. under subsistence conditions, local fuelwood resources were used only to meet local demand, but these resources can now also be exploited for sale outside Limited and inelastic subsistence demand is replaced by limitless and elastic export demand (from the standpoint of the local economy), leading to much more rapid rates of exploitation than would be implied by local population growth alone (Repetto and Holmes 1983). The collection of fuelwood and its sale in urban/pert-urban areas by poor rural women, on their own account or under contract to commercial traders, is an obvious example.

As studies in Botswana, Malawi, Nigeria, and Tanzania have confirmed, woodfuel demand first increases with rising income and later declines with increasing substitution of kerosene, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and electricity. The potential for such interfuel substitution depends heavily on economic growth and on income distribution in cities where economies of scale can be realized in meeting demand for fuel from such alternative sources. It also depends on pricing policies and supply security at the consumer level (Barnes 1990a). To the extent that slow economic growth and rapid population growth prevent significant increases in average per capita incomes, demand for woodfueIs will continue to increase about as rapidly as population growth Moreover, even if aggregate economic growth can be accelerated, but is inequitable and leads to widening disparities in income distribution, this will impede the switch to nonwood fuels.

The brunt of the fuelwood crisis falls on women: they must manage household energy needs through fuel collection, preparation' and use. Men do not usually involve themselves in fuel provision for the household under subsistence conditions, but there are exceptions (as among the Muslim Hausa); they usually take over only when the fuel economy becomes commercialized Children increasingly have to help their mothers with this task. Girls in particular have to help in fuelwood fetching, fuel preparation, cooking, and tending the fire In Tanzania, girls help their mothers as soon as they can walk. In many parts of Africa it is not uncommon for mothers to take their daughters from school to help them gather fuel. Women (and children) have to walk increasingly farther and take more time to collect fuelwood. In parts of Sudan, the time needed to fetch fuelwood increased more than fourfold between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s (Agarwal 1986). This time is diverted from other pressing tasks—including timely crop planting and weeding (thus depressing crop yields) and childcare (which is increasingly entrusted to school-age girls kept at home). When fuelwood sources were more abundant, fuel gathering could often be combined with other activities, such as walking home from school or from the market or field. With increasing scarcity, fewer sources, and longer distances, the loads carried become larger and heavier, more time is required, and the opportunity to combine wood fetching with other tasks is reduced.

Women very rarely have access to any labor-saving technology for their task—transport aids or efficient tools for cutting or felling. They carry heavy loads to reduce the number of trips required to provide fuel for their household (and often their nonfarm income-earning activity as well). They may headload as much as 35 kg (even though in many countries 20 kg is the maximum legally permissible headload for women) over distances of up to 10 km, often over difficult terrain. Carrying such heavy loads damages the spine, causing difficulties during pregnancy and childbirth, uses up substantial energy, and is a cause of frequent accidents.

Fuel scarcity leads to changes in nutritional patterns, especially to fewer meals being cooked or meals being cooked less well (Timberlake 1986 :34). In parts of the Sahel, many families have gone from two to only one cooked meal per day (Agarwal 1986); others mix uncooked millet with water for a midday meal (Tinker 1987) A study in Rwanda found 62 percent of families cooking only once a day and 33 percent cooking even less often (Dankelman and Davidson 1988:71). Fuel shortages also induce shifts to foods that require less energy to cook, but may be nutritionally inferior. Women in Burkina Paso refused to use soybeans because of the long cooking time and greater fuel requirement compared with the traditional cowpeas (Hoskins 1979)—until they were taught to ferment the beans into soybean cake, which reduced the heating time from as much as twelve hours to one (Tinker 1987). Switching to raw or partially cooked food or to cold leftovers is becoming more common (Dankelman and Davidson 1988:71). The shortages of fuelwood, of food and of women's time combine into a serious nutritional and health problem Partial cooking can cause significant health problems. Water purification requires boiling—not possible without fuel and tune. Hot water to wash dishes, utensils, laundry, and children may be out of the question (Dankelman and Davidson 1988:71-72). The impact of nutrition and health problems on labor availability and productivity for farming and other income-generating activities is, of course, negative.

The intensifying fuelwood shortage has another important negative effect on rural women Many of their nonfarm income-earning activities require fuelwood: food processing, beer brewing, fish smoking, pottery making, etc. Fuelwood scarcity therefore severely limits their opportunities to supplement their income through such activities. This is an increasingly critical issue in view of the widespread gender-separation of budgets and women's almost exclusive responsibility for child rearing (see Chapter 5).

Eventually, women have little choice but to switch to other fuels. Interfuel substitution in rural Sub-Saharan Africa usually means a switch to less efficient fuels—most commonly to crop by-products and residues and dung, which are far more valuable if recycled as inputs into the farming system to help maintain soil fertility. Many such fuels are less convenient than firewood or charcoal, requiring more tending and fire-feeding, generating more smoke and less heat' and so on. Cooking may take longer and require even more fuel than before.

Using crop by-products and dung as fuel also has significant negative effects on soil fertility, water retention, crop yields, and soil degradation and erosion. This is increasingly happening, for example, in areas such as the Ethiopian highlands and the northern part of the Sahelo-Sudanian Zone. In Ethiopia, an active urban market for animal dung has developed where fuelwood resources have become depleted (Anderson and Fishwick 1984). The importance of agricultural wastes and dung for fertility management in farming systems is particularly critical as fallows are shortened and recycling of crop waste and dung is essential in the move towards agricultural intensification. Under the agroecological conditions of much of Sub-Saharan Africa, this is extremely important organic matter is quickly mineralized in the absence of shading tree canopies, and nutrients are leached rapidly from most soils. One study estimated that dung used as fuel in Ethiopia in 1983 would have increased the country's cereal output by 1-15 million tons if it had been used as fertilizer instead (Newcombe 1989:132).

There are many causes for the fuelwood problem, including the traditions ofits use and the absence of alternative fuels. The major reason for the lack of success in introducing alternative fuels is that wood has been regarded in most of Sub-Saharan Africa as a free good., taken largely from land to which everyone has the right of access (open-access land). As a result, a market for fuelwood has not developed in many countries despite its increasing scarcity. Even where fuelwood scarcity and high transport costs have created a market, the "producer price" of wood has remained below its replacement value because most supplies come from open-access forests. Market prices do not include the environmental costs of heavy fuelwood extraction. Alternative energy sources, such as kerosene, LPG, and electricity are costly; their cost more closely reflects their scarcity value since they are not obtainable from open-access sources. Despite dwindling forests and wood supplies, other fuels are not substituted in significant quantities, because the price of fuelwood is lower than that of alternative fuels. Investments in kerosene, LPG, and electricity supply systems must be made more efficient to make them more price competitive with fuelwood. Fuelwood prices, conversely, need to be increased. Chapter 8 suggests how this may be accomplished.