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close this bookBoiling Point No. 27 - April 1992 (ITDG Boiling Point, 1992)
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View the documentFuel Collection and Nutrition in Nepal
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Fuel Collection and Nutrition in Nepal

by Shubh K Kumar and David Hotchkiss, from the International Food Policy Research Institute, 1776 Massachussetts Avenue, Washington DC 20036, USA, October 1988.

Editorial Summary

Early work in Nepal has shown that deforestation in the hill areas, even in the most densely populated parts, is more likely to occur from low agricultural productivity than from pressure of fuelwood demand. Because of poor agricultural methods, more land is needed to provide food for the family and so more forest is cleared.

The cost in time spent collecting a standard load of fuelwood is the instrument used to examine the effects of deforestation on agricultural output, food consumption and the nutritional status of children. Women are engaged in the collection of fuelwood, fodder and water as well as in agricultural production, and women's work loads increase with deforestation, as the result of longer distances to travel and sparser woodlands. Here women work in general 8-10 hours a day. Thus an increase in time required for collection not only reduces the time available for agricultural labour, thereby influencing farm output and income, but it also reduces time spent on cooking and nurturing activities. In addition, when deforestation influences the amount of time spent gathering leaf fodder and grass for animals, another important source of household income may be adversely affected.

In Nepal's hill areas, women's total recorded work time is found to be between I SO% and 180% of that of men, out of which about 40% is spent on fuel collection alone. The rest of women's recorded work time is shared between agricultural activities and food processing and preparation. Three-quarters of the household's total time spent on collection of forest products is by women, with the rest shared between men and children.

Analysis of fuelwood use by households shows that when access to forests decreases, the consumption of fuelwood decreases, but the total time spent on its collection increases. For the sites where deforestation is greatest, the time required to collect a standard load of fuelwood is 75% higher than it is where deforestation is low, which translates to a 45% increase in time spent for fuelwood collection. Time spent in collecting other forest products, particularly leaf fodder and grass collection, is assumed to increase commensurately with the degree of deforestation.

According to the study, women spent about one hour more in collection activities at sites where deforestation was severe and more walking was needed. For the same amount of cropped area, agricultural labour was reduced by 40%. The study indicated, however, that cropped area is generally higher in regions of heavy deforestation: therefore, total time spent on agriculture should be higher. Instead, the reduction in women's time spent on agriculture closely corresponds to the one-hour increase in collection time.

Analysis of agricultural production shows that a potential loss of productivity and real income results from changes in time allocation patterns that accompany deforestation. Also,while income is the most important factor for raising calorie consumption for the households with malnourished children for the group with a higher consumption level, the requirement is that women spend significantly more time on food preparation.

The study indicates that not only is the increase in women's work load in high deforestation areas detrimental to preschool children's nutrition, but the effect is similar when older children take up more household work in the form of increased collection activities and livestock care.