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close this bookSustaining the Future: Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 pages)
close this folderPart 3: Environment and resource management
close this folderThe fuelwood/energy crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentPopulation and environmental concerns
View the documentThe primary energy sector in Sub-Saharan Africa
View the documentProblems of the energy sector in Sub-Saharan Africa
View the documentThe socio-economic implications of the fuelwood crisis
View the documentStrategies to combat the fuelwood crisis Strategies to combst the fuelwood crisis
View the documentNew and renewable energy development
View the documentConclusion
View the documentReferences

The socio-economic implications of the fuelwood crisis

Generally, the economic and social consequences of fuelwood exploitation and consumption are overlooked. In Ghana, for example, cooking in the home depends on fuelwood, which is responsible for more than 75 per cent of all energy consumed in the country annually. Most small-scale industries and food-processing enterprises that women undertake depend in large part on wood fuel. This dependence on wood fuels has contributed to the growing exploitation of the country's forest. In all, about 650,000 ha of forest are destroyed every year through the carbonization of charcoal. Alarmingly, between 1974 and 1990 wood-fuel consumption increased by 50 per cent in the country (Ardayfio-Schandorf 1993). This increase mainly reflects the urban demand previously discussed.

Urban demand has, as it were, created fuelwood markets, providing job opportunities for both men and women. Men are involved in the long-distance trade in fuelwood and charcoal, and women are in small-scale fuelwood businesses focused on villages and local markets. Charcoal production is undertaken by women in towns and villages, where they run family businesses more actively during the off farming season.

Though inefficient, wood-fuel production and distribution contribute to some extent to the national balance of payments at the macro level, as foreign exchange that might have been used for the purchase of imported fuels is saved through the use of traditional fuels. This notwithstanding, poor urban women have to pay higher prices for fuelwood and charcoal owing to commercialization. In the rural areas, women and children walk long distances to produce, harvest, and transport fuelwood to their households. However, in areas where forest resources are abundant the production of fuelwood is less problematic. In areas of high population density, women spend longer hours producing fuelwood. In such areas, women collect fuelwood on their return from the farm while they do other things as well (Ardayfio-Schandorf 1981). Similarly, in the semi-arid, arid, or savanna areas with low population density where wood-fuel resources are scarce, women have to walk for longer distances to produce fuelwood.

Where these problems exist, a bigger burden is put on women, who have to make some trade-offs. Women curtail cooking time and even cut down on economic enterprises to make time for fuelwood production. The production time varies from one region to another, with walking distances ranging from about 1 to about 10 km and even more in places such as Ethiopia. The distance covered is reflected in the cost of fuelwood.

In the Sahelian countries where deforestation is severe, fuelwood costs as much as food. Even in Ghana it has been found that women in the savanna (semi-arid) regions have cut down on their cooking time and are cooking less nutritious food because of the fuelwood crisis (Ardayfio, 1986). In view of these problems, some scholars argue that the real energy crisis is women's time. However, the energy crisis goes beyond women's time. In areas where fuelwood is the only energy input for commercial activities for women, they have been forced owing to cost and non-availability of fuelwood to discontinue many economic activities. Because of this pressure, women who are involved in household fuelwood production have developed an intimate knowledge of wood species critical for fuelwood and charcoal production. This knowledge could be exploited in planning to meet improved wood-fuel supplies.