|Technology, Markets and People: The Use and Misuse of Fuelsaving Stoves - A project case study (UNEP, 1989, 66 p.)|
Deforestation is not a tidy, closed problem, and we do not claim to have found a tidy, closed solution. But the success of the institutional fuelwood saving programme established by the UNEP/Bellerive Foundation project has shown that measures to reduce fuelwood consumption can have a role to play.
At a time of general disillusionment with stove projects, this is in itself an important conclusion. This report has discussed why, as we see it, this component of the project suceeded, and what lessons may be drawn for the design and implementation of such projects in the future.
First of all, project designers need a much clearer idea than they often seem to have of what the project is trying to achieve, in order to avoid being sidetracked by secondary objectives. We are trying to save trees it is not necessarily true that reducing fuelwood consumption will contribute to achieving this goal if most of the fuelwood consumed in a certain sector is derived from dead wood or from trees which would have been cut down anyway, to clear land for agriculture, for example, then the level of fuelwood consumption in that sector is generally irrelevant to the issue of deforestation.
To make it more complicated, it is very difficult to establish which parts of the fuelwood economy are directly responsible for environmental damage. For while it is clear that not all fuelwood use is damaging, to conclude, as some recent authors seem to have done, that there is no fuelwood problem in Africa, is equally unjustified it is essential to acknowledge the problems diversity. In order to recognise that it is pointless to propose global solutions, and equally pointless to criticise such solutions on a continent-wide level.
Fuelwood is used in so many different ways that sweeping, across-the-board measures to reduce consumption are out of the question. Thus the issue of whether Africa as a whole, or even a particular country within Africa, has a fuelwood surplus or deficit, is of academic interest only. Certain sectors of the economy, and individual communities, are clearly suffering fuelwood shortages, and are having to meet their fuelwood needs by cutting down trees faster than they can be regenerated. This is the level on which we must address the problem.
Such a small-scale approach depends on involving the target community in identifying priorities and developing project strategy. As we found in the course of this project, the communitys immediate priorities may be very different from our own, and from what we initially perceive them to be. Although the level of awareness of the problem of deforestation is generally very high in Kenya, as long as fuelwood is available for free then investing extensively in fuelsaving equipment or in planting trees, is a luxury which few can afford in a developing country. Money is scarce and the household has other pressing needs.
If we want the projects beneficiaries to bear some or all of its cost, on the basis of their fuelwood savings, then it is essential that we identify a sector of the fuelwood economy in which a cash price for fuelwood has become established. Clear examples of such monetised sectors include urban charcoal consumers, upper income rural consumers and fuelwood using institutions.
Within such a monetised sector, this project has demonstrated that it is possible to establish a sustainable conservation programme, and achieve a significant impact on consumption. Because the fuelsaving systems developed by the project are an economically viable investment (saving over half the fuelwood consumed by the alternatives available, giving an average payback period of about 1.5 years), the dissemination programme is now financially self-sustaining and has become the largest single source of institutional catering equipment in Kenya, with approximately 50% of the market.
Given that institutional fuelwood consumption, much more than domestic, has to be supplied through the systematic harvesting of standing trees, the programme is clearly alleviating the rate at which trees are cut down. By how much, in terms of tonnes of fuelwood or hectares of forest saved, is very difficult to quantify, since consumption estimates can be no more than indicators of order-of-magnitude. To give some idea of the projects impact: the Beijer institute and KENGO/IDRC estimate that institutional catering accounts for approximately 15% of national consumption of harvested woodfuel. The programme will be saving over half of this if present market trends continue.
In developing this programme, our key practical conclusion is that the importance of improved technology has been generally over-emphasised in such fuelwood conservation projects. Stoves do not save trees. People may use a stove to help them to conserve, but there may be other changes to be made in the management of fuelwood in the kitchen which will have as much or more impact on fuelwood consumption as the introduction of improved equipment.
The improved stove must be seen as only one component of a training package aimed at improving fuelwood management. It was only after we introduced such a package that the project began to increase its market penetration and achieve significant fuelwood savings.
The importance of the complete system, as opposed to Just the hardware, may have been neglected in appropriate technology development projects, but the concept is far from new. In a recent survey in The Economist, the chairman of ICI attributed his companys recovery in the 1980s to their present approach: providing chemicals-related services rather than Just selling chemical products.
Thus as long as we are working in a monetised sector of the fuelwood economy, it is clearly more effective to market a fuelwood conservation service, rather than simply to sell a fuelwood saving stove. But while it is essential to identify and exploit such sectors, since only thus can we expect to establish a sustainable conservation programme in the short term, we must recognise that the monetisation of fuelwood is the exception rather than the rule.
For the vast majority of consumers, fuelwood is still effectively free, and it is therefore unrealistic to expect them to invest in conservation. This does not mean such consumers will not be interested in improved stoves, but if they are, it will be for other reasons: improving kitchen working conditions, hygiene and so on.
The fact that the value of fuelwood is still too low to motivate a sustained reforestation or conservation effort, even in areas where the environmental situation is deteriorating rapidly, is clear evidence that the market isnt working. The present value of a tree does not reflect its long-term importance to the agricultural economy.
This calls for a fundamental change in the thinking behind what we are doing. We are not simply providing the consumer with what he or she wants. In the non-monetised economy, conservation is not yet a high enough priority to motivate a monetary investment.
Two options are open, both of them based on education. In the short term, we can teach consumers to manage fuelwood better, using the equipment they have. The wide range in overall system efficiencies achieved by different African women using three-stone fires is clear evidence that substantial savings can be made without consumers having to invest in improved stoves. The development of skills-training materials to improve kitchen energy management should be a priority for domestic sector fuelwood conservation projects in the future.
In the long term, we must be more ambitious. Those who already pay for fuelwood will pay for conservation measures. And the majority, who dont pay, can conserve a considerable amount without investing anything. We can help both. But as long as standing trees are still effectively regarded as free, there is a limit to what conservation can achieve.
What is needed is a change in the value set upon a tree by the target community, such that investments will be made not Just for the sake of short-term monetary savings, but for long-term environmental benefits. The process of change has begun. We can, through education, facilitate it. But it will take time.