|Gender aspects of woodfuel flows in Sri Lanka (1999)|
|5. Urban woodfuel trade|
The woodfuel business, although noted as a man's occupation, is a household survival strategy for those who are engaged as intermediaries in the flow mechanism, while in rural areas the fuelwood sales bring cash to meet contingency needs. For wage earners, for the casual labour in particular, it is an opportunity to earn cash. For instance, 2 to 3 people work at each wood depot splitting wood and selling them to carters. The benefits of the daily wage opportunities are enjoyed by their families. The wage income of a daily labourer is in the range of Rs. 140 to 240, which is equivalent to a local casual labour wage. Almost all the respondents interviewed mentioned that it is a means to support their families. According to the interviewees, as women have no formal employment in these families, it is a sole source of family income.
The discussions held with the families of fuelwood carters' showed that although it is the sole source of income only 60-70 percent goes for family use. Only in 4 cases did 90 percent or more of the daily earnings go to the family. The rest goes on carters' personal expenditures which includes lunch, 3 cups of tea, smoking materials and some alcohol. All the carters interviewed occupy very congested housing units, so the quality of life is rather poor. Neither the carters nor the women of their families believe that women could be involved in the woodfuel trade because the work is too hard for them. Therefore, it would be difficult for women to be integrated into the existing trade mechanisms and it is doubtful that they would be accepted.
Relatively better standards of living, with better houses with service facilities are enjoyed by the fuelwood depot owners. A repeatedly mentioned problem is the tendency for the consumption of fuelwood to decrease, and for the price that the consumers have to pay to the deliverers from outside to increase. They stressed three points in regard to this phenomenon. The first is the difficulty in getting better logs of rubber wood, because it is in demand as timber for making furniture and packing boxes. Rubber wood packs well and the wastage is minimal, the time spent on splitting is less when compared with forest wood, so depots get maximum returns from rubber wood sales. The second is the greater tendency by the household sector to use alternative, clean types of energy. Records at wood depots showed that their sales have been reduced by about 35-40 percent. The third point is the increasing price of wood coming from outside and the increased fuel price that affects the cost of transportation.
Under these circumstances, the future of the woodfuel business must be properly supported to make it a profitable income venture for the producers. The potential to promote supplies from hinterland areas and to connect hinterlands with urban markets has not been investigated so far. This is a way to contribute to the incomes of the small-scale rural producers, particularly to women. According to the women interviewed in the rural survey, if such mechanisms are developed women will be motivated to produce an excess of fuelwood and to consume fuelwood more efficiently, because every kilogram of wood that they can save will be sold for cash for household use.