|Technology, Markets and People: The Use and Misuse of Fuelsaving Stoves - A project case study (UNEP, 1989, 66 p.)|
It is a picture all too familiar to all of us working in development: a woman supporting a load of firewood almost as heavy as herself by a single strap across her forehead. She has an hours walk ahead of her and the fuel will last the family no more than a few days.
The scene might be almost anywhere in Africa, or parts of Asia and Latin America. We have a renewable resource which is no longer being renewed fast enough: every year this housewife has a few hundred meters farther to walk. A relentlessly increasing demand: every year a few more children to cook for. She is trapped in a vital but unproductive activity consuming more and more of her time.
But there is one aspect of the picture which often goes unnoted by those accustomed to addressing global issues. For her, this is a local problem: where last year she gathered fuel the land has now been cleared for agriculture, so she has to search beyond. But as far as she is concerned, it makes little difference whether the rest of the planet is desert or virgin forest.
Unlike an increase in the price of oil the fuelwood crisis should be seen as an aggregate of millions of village-scale tragedies, rather than as a single, global problem. This is not to belittle its significance. As a commodity which plays a central role in the lives of half the worlds population, the importance of fuelwood can hardly be over-emphasised. But it does mean that we must take a different approach to the fuelwood problem to those we adopt when addressing impending shortages of fossil fuels.
While the consequences of deforestation do have global implications - as any climatologist will confirm - the problem is manifest on an infinitely smaller scale and must be approached accordingly.
The tools of macroeconomic policy have little impact on the use of firewood outside the monetised economy, and even on the micro level, we cannot expect to find a single, globally applicable solution to so diverse a problem. Rather we have to investigate ways and means of improving the situation where it is most acutely felt: in the villages of the developing world.
Although the full diversity of the problem has only come to be appreciated in recent years, the need for grassroots action was recognised at the United Nations Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy held in Nairobi in 1981. In an initiative inspired by this conference, the United Nations Environment Programme, in cooperation with the Bellerive Foundation, established a project in Kenya to investigate measures to alleviate the village fuelwood shortage.
This project has received continuous assistance and cooperation from the Government of Kenya. I wish to express our gratitude to His Excellency President Daniel Arap Moi for the personal interest he has taken in the UNEP/Bellerive projects progress. The constructive links we have maintained with the Government of Kenya are being consolidated, with ongoing activities becoming an integral component of the district development strategies of the Ministries of Energy, Environment and Natural Resources, and Technical Training and Applied Technology.
Our efforts to reduce the consumption of fuelwood in large-scale catering institutions have proved particularly encouraging. The success of this programme is such that more than half the institutional stoves now being installed in Kenya are models developed by the UNEP/Bellerive project. The figures confirm that this will significantly reduce the nations fuelwood consumption.
Many lessons have been learnt in the course of this project. I am pleased that, through this report, an opportunity has arisen to present, to others working in conservation and development, all we did right, and wrong.
For by far the clearest lesson to come out of our activities in Kenya is that no single initiative will ever be enough to reverse the fuelwood crisis. Hence the importance of sharing knowledge and experience as widely as possible amongst those working in the field.
If the problems are to be solved, it will be through the combined efforts of hundreds of different organisations, each working to the same end but in many diverse ways. We can learn from each others experiences and argue about each others ideas. But we have only to think again of the woman trudging home under her inhuman burden to recognise that something must be done - now.
Sadruddin Aga Khan
President, Bellerive Foundation
Geneva, April 1989