|Boiling Point No. 39 - Using Biomass Residues for Energy (ITDG - ITDG, 1997, 44 p.)|
by Alemayehu Gebrehiwot, Research director, Women Fuelwood Carriers Project, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Bois de feu source d'rgie domestique en Ethiopie: une approche par l'offre.
Les biomasses traditionelles reprntent plus de 90% des besoins en rgie domestique de l'Ethiopie. Cette utilisation intensive n'est pas sans effets ntifs tant sur la production et la productivitgricoles que sur la santumaine. Malgres politiques de substitution (keros, gaz butane) entam en mileu urbain, la grande majorite la population va continuer de dndre des biomasses traditionnelles. L'auteur souligne la divergence d'intts entre la gestion durable ong terme de la foret les prvements illux de bois feu ainsi que leur commercialisation afin de subvenir aux besoins essentiels ourt terme. L'auteur expose un projet conduit par l'Organisation Internationale du Travail dans lequel des revenus alternatifs (artisanat, agriculture...) sont offerts aux femmes qui sont les principales actrices dans cette fili. Ce projet ne concerne cependant qu'un nombre limite femmes. La solution ong terme rde dans l'intation de la I grande majorites femmes dans des projets de gestion durable de la forI incluant la collecte et la commercialisation du bois rgie.
The quality of life prevailing in many countries of the developing world is reflected in the source, supply and use patterns of household energy. Ethiopia with a population of over 56 million, is one of the poorest countries in the world; it belongs to a the group of least developed countries, and has an annual per capita income of US$120, with two thirds of the population unable to afford even the most basic necessities (UNICEF, 1993).
It is not surprising, therefore, that the country depends heavily on traditional biomass fuels, including wood, crop residues, charcoal and dung, for 95% of its energy needs. Over 90% of biomass fuel energy is consumed in households, rural and urban alike. The country's dependence on biomass fuel remains one of the highest in Africa, higher than in the neighbouring countries of Uganda and Kenya (EFAP, 1993). Woody biomass is the largest source of energy supply; and if present trends continue, the projected estimates are that the annual consumption of fuelwood will be on the increase well into the first quarter of the next century (MOA, 1990). Such an overwhelming and persistent dependence on biomass fuels for household energy has given rise to development concerns on several fronts; and has become a serious issue to the future of the country.
Figure 1: Deforestation and soil erosion are acute problems in most of highland Ethiopia
Biomass use for household energy adversely affects crop production and productivity. With increased depletion of woody vegetation for fuel, heightened erosion of top soil has become glaringly evident; diminishing the production potential of cultivated land. At the same time, with increased use of crop residues and dung to compensate for the increasing scarcity and cost of firewood, natural fertilizers are being removed from the soil, leading to a progressive fall in crop yields.
The negative consequences of a heavy dependence on biomass fuel as a source of household energy are not restricted to the environment and crop production. Equally worrying is the fact that activities relating to the supply and use of biomass fuel have hazardous effects of human health, ranging from trauma to acute respiratory infection (Fekerte, 1991; WHO, 1992).
In response to this wide range of problems created by use of biomass fuels, action programmes to enhance both the combustion efficiency of biomass fuels and the use of alternative sources of household energy have now become a high priority in the country's development agenda.
Programmes to develop and promote substitute fuels and appliances have led to the increased use of kerosene stoves and electric cookers in major urban centres. More recently, the government has embarked on a natural gas development project in the Ogaden, which is expected to produce, among other things, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for urban household energy.
Notwithstanding the importance of these efforts, movement toward the use of cleaner and more efficient cooking fuel alternatives, such as kerosene and bottled gas, is likely to be a slow process due to several socio-economic barriers. In particular, given current population and economic trends in the country, a rather more realistic assumption is that the vast majority of household will have little choice but to continue to rely on biomass fuel energy in the foreseeable future. Even if the price of the gas itself is subsidized, relatively few people will be able to afford to buy the equipment. In this context, therefore, emphasis on improving the current management of supply and use of biomass fuel seems to be a more feasible intervention strategy, at least in the medium term.
One such effort is the Women Fuelwood Carriers (WFC) Project, which aims to contribute to the sustainable management of urban and peri-urban forest resources through actions to improve the living and working conditions of women fuelwood carriers (WFCs) who supply a substantial proportion of the daily energy needs of urban households in the country.
The nature and scope of the problem
Given the increasing household demand for fuelwood energy, the supply problem is broadly viewed as a complex interaction between causes and effects emanating from, and impinging upon, supply sources and suppliers. More specifically, the problem arises from the conflicting needs of forest plantation management to ensure a sustainable supply, and of the WFCs to earn a living.
The different types of fuelwood, including stacked wood, branches, leaves and twigs, supplied to household in Addis Ababa originate mainly from two peri-urban eucalyptus plantations, and are sold at numerous market places in the city. The origin of these plantations dates back to the turn of the century, when Emperor Menilik introduced them to Addis Ababa. However, the present size, organization and management of the plantations date from the launching, in the 1980s of large afforestation projects in several parts of the country to cater for urban fuel and construction needs. The capital's peri-urban plantation projects were financed mainly by loans from the World Bank and the African Development Bank.
Figure 2: A fuelwood market in Addis Ababa.
To ensure a sustainable supply of fuel and construction poles, the operation of the plantation projects is based on management plans of five to eight years. Nevertheless, their approach to forest protection which, by and large, depends on the vigilance of armed guards, has been far from effective. This is evident from the strikingly large number of illegal forest users transporting fuel-wood, by backloading and on donkeys, for sale in Addis Ababa. For example, in a six-day survey of fuelwood inflow, limited to only three hours daily and to three of the numerous inflow routes into the city, a total of 3834 fuelwood carriers were counted, of whom more than three quarter were women and young girls; and there are indications that a growing number of informal operators are being attracted into illegally collecting and transporting fuelwood from the plantations covering both sides of the Entoto Heights (Alemayehu & Gebremedhin, 1996). As a result of this illegal activity, the peri-urban forests are, as in the past, rapidly disappearing, making the objectives for which the plantations were established almost impossible to attain.
The overwhelming majority of the illegal forest users are urban WFCs, who collect fuelwood from the plantations. They then back-load the fuelwood to sell, door to door, on street corners, or in the many open markets. It is estimated that well over 15,000 women in Addis Ababa support themselves and their families by this activity; and that they supply at least 35% of the city's domestic energy needs. These WFCs belong to the poorest section of urban society; approximately 60% of them are heads of their households, or acting heads; and one third are between the ages of 10 and 19.
Figure 3: About one third of the carriers and sellers of fuelwood in Addis Ababa are between 10 and 19 years old.
The WFCs, who have no other way of supporting themselves and their families, subsist on fuelwood carry and trading as their primary source of income, at a considerable cost both to their own health and personal safety, and to the sound management of the forest resources. The income that the WFCs earn from selling a bundle of fuelwood barely permits survival; but such a meagre income entails, apart from the harassment by and bribes to the forest guards, the back-breaking work of walking up to 30km round trip; and backloading an average weight of 30kg on the return journey.
The cumulative effect of this illegal activity by the WFCs as the major or sole means of their livelihood has further repercussions. It contributes to increased depletion of the plantations, disrupts the sustainable supply of fuelwood and ultimately puts at stake, not only the very survival of the WFCs themselves, but also the household energy needs of end-users at large. This situation is likely to persist over several years in the future, and it is critically important that strategies are developed to reconcile this conflict of interests of the WFCs and of the plantation projects.
The WFC Project
The current WFC project, executed by the International labour Organisation (ILO), evolved from a preliminary action research project which gathered much hitherto unrecorded information on the working and living conditions of WFCs in Addis Ababa. The action research underscored the important role of the WFCs in the supply of household fuel to the city; the meagre income they earn from collecting, backloading and selling fuelwood on which their survival mainly or entirely depends; the detrimental impact of this activity on sustainable forest management; and the need to assist these women to find alternative ways of making a living.
The project began in 1994, in collaboration with the Ministry of labour and Social Affairs (MOLSA) and with funds granted by the German and Netherlands governments. Given the complexity of the problem, the project's approach is necessarily holistic and multi-sectoral with a two-pronged strategy to improve the working and living conditions of WFCs and contribute to the sustainable management of the plantation forests.
Figure 4: A former fuelwood carrier, now a WFC project member earns a better living weaving on a traditional loom.
The project's short-term strategy is to help some of the WFCs to find less injurious and more rewarding ways of making a living: individually or in groups, several hundred former WFCs are now earning income from handicrafts, a tea shop, baking enerja and ambasha (local breads), growing vegetables and tree seedlings for sale, sheep fattening, local beer brewing and a variety of other micro-enterprises for which WFCs have access to credit through a scheme designed on the Grameen Bank model.
But project assistance to bring about the occupational reorientation for thousands of WFCs in Addis Ababa through the development of non-forest based alternative income generating activities provides only a short-term solution. With the ever increasing fuelwood demand for household energy, it is clear that for every woman who leaves fuelwood collection to start a different occupation there will be another to replace her: fuelwood trading needs no skills or investment, except in physical effort and time.
The long-term strategy of the project is, therefore, to persuade policy-makers and planners to look for ways in which illegal forest users can become partners in good forest management. This approach is based on the principle and practice that forest con servation and development programmes have a much better chance of success if they are sensitive to the socio-economic interests of the relevant stakeholders. On this basis, the project has been advocating for the design of fuelwood plantation management systems which integrate WFCs rather than confront them.
Figure 5: A former woman fuelwood carrier now earns an income from growing tree seedlings for sale at the projects's nursery site in Keranyo, Addis Ababa.
In practice, the development of such systems is a slow process which requires the institutionalization of a gradual integration of WFCs into the management plans of the plantation projects, both at planning and operational levels.
As an entry point toward higher forms of integration activities, the WFC project, in collaboration with the Finfine Fuelwood Plantation Project (FFPP), carried out a seven month action research to test approaches and methods for a simultaneous consideration of the WFCs survival needs and the sustainable management of the plantation forests. The pilot case was designed to assess the technical and economic feasibility of bulk fuel-wood purchase for subsequent sale by WFCs groups Two groups of twenty WFCs each were involved in this legal fuel-wood trading activity with the FFPP as the source of both fuel-wood supply and hired motorize transport. Following the findings and recommendations of the pilot case (Alemayehu & Camilla, 1997), the trading operation has now become an ongoing income earning activity for the WFCs; and the need to expand the scope of integration activities in emerging as an area of common interest to the WFCs and the plantation project.
Continued action toward sustainable forest management through improving the living and working conditions of WFCs can be ensured only if the WFCs themselves have the organizational capacity for collective action to further their own interests. Therefore, advocating for and assisting in the establishment of a women's fuelwood carriers association, as an umbrella organization that can speak and act on behalf of its members, has been an important part of the project's work. This resulted, in October 1996, in the formation of the Former Women Fuelwood Carriers Association (FWFCA) which is being strengthened in order to be able to achieve its declared objectives: to promote alternative sources of income for WFDs; to advocate on behalf of its members for the integration of WFCs in national forest management policies and programmes; and to advance the worldwide movement of integrating women in environmental protection.
Alemayehu, G.H. & Camilla, B. (1997). Report on a Pilot Activity for the Integration of Women Fuelwood Carriers into Sustainable Forest Management. WFC project, Addis Ababa.
Alemayehu, G.H. & Gebremedhin, H. (1996) Inflow and Marketing of Fuelwood and Dung in Addis Ababa; report of a pilot survey. WFC project, Addis Ababa.
EFAP (1993). The Challenge for Development. Final report, Vol. II
Ethiopian Forestry Action Programme Secretariat, Addis Ababa.
Fekerte, H. (1991) Women Fuelwood Carriers in Addis Ababa and the Per-urban Forest. International Labour Office, Geneva.
MOA (1990). Wood Fuel Production Development: Draft sectoral plan Ministry of Agriculture, Fuelwood plantation Expansion Division, Addis Ababa.
UNICEF (1993) Children and Women in Ethiopia. A situation report. UNICEF, Paris,
WHO (1992) Indoor Air Pollution from Biomass Fuel. Report of a World Health Organization consultation. WHO, Geneva.
The author is very grateful to Ms. Eve Hall, Chief Technical Advisor, Women Fuelwood Carriers Project, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for her editorial comments.