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close this bookBoiling Point No. 27 - April 1992 (ITDG - ITDG, 1992, 40 p.)
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View the documentThe Value of Women's Time
View the documentWomen in Stoves Programmes
View the documentThe Effect of Fuel Efficient Stoves
View the documentWe Have Never Felt It So Enjoyable To Cook
View the documentStoves, Forests and Women
View the documentReflecting on Women, Children & Stoves
View the documentLearning as We Teach: A Dialogue with Cooks
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Energy Transitions in Africa

Defining the Need Not To Intervene by Chris Howorth, ETC, 37139 Norfolk St, North Shields, Tyne & Wear, NE30 INQ Map of the Gambia

Since the 1970s the energy crisis in the South has been recognised and, as a consequence, substantial portions of Northern aid packages have been donated to address the improvement of Southern energy economics. The position to date is that there is a realisation that interventions in the field of improving the biomass resource base are misdirected and new approaches are needed but no one is quite sure what direction to take. There is a general feeling that these new interventions must be, with perhaps a touch of sarcasm, 'sustainable, equitable and participative', but again no one is really sure how to transfer these words into actions. One of the main reasons for this general confusion is that information on how woodfuel shortages affect people and their modes of practice is sadly lacking. Consequently the policy formulation process is something of a hit and miss affair, a game of random numbers. The issues raised (in this paper) concern how consumers are affected by woodfuel shortages, how they are dealing with shortages and what levels of success they are achieving by these methods.

The Gambia

Map of the Gambia

Within the development institutions there is an increasing recognition that whatever fields one is dealing with, be it agriculture, energy or forestry, there are successful management practices already in existence. On the same lines, there is also a recognition that, when new or problematic situations arise, local people show successful inventive and adaptive methods to overcome these new situations. Leading on from this, using the participative doctrine, the obvious answer is to build on local initiatives rather than try to invent new models of practice that are alien to local ideas and perceptions. So far this 'new' thinking has had a poor track record and has largely only been paid lip service, partly due to inflexible bureaucratic and administrative structures and as a result of information gaps. Humans show a remarkable tendency to resist change, especially when they are fortunate enough to find themselves in positions of power. Because administrative and bureaucratic systems are extremely difficult to change, fetus attempt to redress the balance by improving the information base.

Household Conservation In the Gambia

There are various management strategies that are employed by women in the household to minimise external resource pressures, particularly in households under stress. The stress comes in the form of an increase in the price of fuelwood and, to a certain extent, a decline in availability. What this means is that the consumer is putting her 'house in order' by conserving resources and switching 'downwards', rather than 'upwards', in her adaption to difficulties (see diagram 1 - The Fuelwood Tree). This is done at the simplest and most basic level of changing the way she uses fuelwood.

The changes in household management manifest themselves in a number of ways. The most notable changes in the Gambia have been:

· A more efficient use of less wood;
· A move to prepared food;
· Fewer meals cooked.

To a lesser extent, households have changed to communal cooking and to foods requiring less cooking.

The expected 'normal' habits of a household would be the cooking of three daily meals - breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cooking habits change with urbanization; for example, breakfast is often omitted, the cooking of the afternoon meal takes place late in the day and there is less emphasis on a big evening meal. There are thus two types of changed cooking habits: one caused by demographic influences and one caused by the shortages of woodfuel brought on by price increases. These changes in cooking habits vary in each urban situation. Three main urban situations exist (see map): Banjul, the capital city; Serekunda, the largest urban area; and Brikama, a large semi rural/urban area.

Within these urban situations, half the households recently adopted conservation measures while half employ conservation measures habitually. The latter groups of households tended to be smaller with a longer history of urban settlement. These demographic influences on cooking habits were most prevalent in Serekunda, a growing town where the changed cooking habits were most notable (i.e. for the majority of cases wood conservation methods are practiced out of habit and not because of a perceived shortage as in Brikama). This has important implications for wood programmes for urban areas, in the sense that a decrease in woodfuel consumption is not because of a direct shortage of wood, but more a cultural reaction to the city.

The Impact of Woodfuel Shortage on Wood Usage

Woodfuel shortages were most apparent in Brikama, because:

· the wooded area around Brikama has been seriously depleted by expanding farmland and so the ability to gather free wood is limited;

· it is a semi-rural area where there is more emphasis on the traditional extended family household and which share the household eating habit, i.e. large family meals, three or four times a day;

· incomes in Brikama are lower than in Serekunda and wood demands a higher proportion of that income.

In Brikama, it is shortages which have changed cooking habits, rather than a change of life style associated with towns. However, the change in cooking styles has been much the same as those caused by urbanisation trends, i.e. fewer meals are cooked, one is omitted greaten cold, less wood is used, and sometimes food types are changed for faster cooking varieties. Experienced shortage, rather than urban taste produces a more acute perception of woodfuel shortages in Brikama than in Serekunda. Although women in Serekunda comment on the sharp price increases in woodfuel, their feelings of hardship are not on a par with those in Brikama. Women in Brikama complain of wood shortage and not just price increases. Wood is of an inferior quality, and there was constant reference to how they used to cook, and consequently eat well, before the shortages.

The Management of the Household

Whether it be due to demographic trends or real woodfuel shortages, the fact remains that women are actively managing their household economies. They are responding to hardships individually, without external assistance and with creative and innovative techniques.

Management of the house hold has materialised in three basic ways.

Firstly, women manage the more efficient use of less wood. Because there is less wood obtained. the wood that is burned is more carefully used: more time and care is spent over the fire ensuring that flames are directed and not wasted outside the cooking pot and every scrap of wood and charcoal remaining from the fire is saved and used later. Secondly, there is a move to prepared food. Often at the midday meal, an excess of food will be cooked so that half can be saved and eaten at the evening meal. This is either eaten cold or is reheated with scraps of wood left over from the midday meal. In some households, only one large meal is cooked and two sections are kept, one for the evening meal and one for the next day's breakfast. Thirdly, some meals are omitted, generally breakfast. The breakfast meal was generally replaced by tea and purchased bread. If this was not the case then prepared food was bought from roadside sellers. Finally, some households cook communally and so save on wood.


To illustrate what is happening in The Gambia look again at 'The Fuelwood Tree'. When a woodfuel shortage is identified, the usual first response has been to plant 'fuelwood' trees in the form of plantations. This level of intervention is intentionally situated in the weak top branches of the tree in the diagram. Plantations hardly ever work. In a slightly stronger position - in the topmiddle branches - is the next level of intervention, the fuel switch. Again, conditions need to be very specific and favourable for this approach and incomes generally need to be high. But income is rarely uniformly distributed in Third World towns. Further down the tree, in a much stronger position, are conservation strategies which include wood burning stoves. In The Gambia, they have had high levels of success where wood has become a relatively expensive commodity, and stoves are cheap and available. However, at the roots of the tree, in the strongest position, is improved household management. This is the first remedial measure to be employed and does not require external intervention; it is also the most effective in terms of woodsaving, and it is the 'no cost option'. In the words of the road-side seller - "it is cheap and best".

Consider a simple thought experiment. In the Gambia there were no successful planting schemes and the briquetting fuelswitch strategy was a demonstrable failure. On the other hand the efficient technology (improved stove) option, disseminated perhaps 5,000 stoves in these urban areas. Assuming each stove saved some 5 cubic metres of wood per annum, the programme saved some 25,000 cubic metres. But the internal coping mechanism of improved household management, where 300,000 urban dwellers saved some 0.5 cubic metres per person, conserved some 150,000 cubic metres per year. Improved household management, the unrecognised and unrecorded intervention, was at least six times more powerful and effective than the best external project.

The Fuelwood Tree - Interventions & Opportunities: A Bottom Up Approach

What does this mean for planners? Firstly, do not assume that a decrease in consumption means shortage and, therefore, requires external intervention. Secondly, do not assume development processes are linear ea. urbanisation itself produces unexpected changes. Most importantly, do not presume that active local management of resource problems does not exist. It does . ' The people know best, listen to the people" - not least because it saves expensive external intervention 0