The role of wood fuels in Africa

The role of wood fuels in Africa

“While fuel wood traditionally accounted for a major part of total wood fuel consumption, the social and economic changes associated with urbanization will lead to a significant shift from fuel wood to charcoal, increasing its energy, environmental, economic, and social role in Africa in the future.”

According to best current estimates, African wood fuel consumption reached 623 million m3 in 1994. This consumption level means that Africa has the highest per capita woodfuel consumption (0.89 m3/year) compared to other continents (e.g. Asia: 0.3 m3/ caput/year).

Except the five north African countries and South Africa, all African countries still depend heavily on wood to meet basic energy needs. In the various African regions, woodfuel share ranges from 61% to 86% of primary energy consumption, with a major part (74% to 97%) consumed by households. The management of woodfuel resources and demand should be considered a major issue in energy planning processes in Africa.

On the other hand, woodfuel consumption is a major contributor to total wood removal, accounting for around 92% of total African wood consumption and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Woodfuel use is therefore a major local and global environmental issue in Africa, and should be fully integrated into forestry planning and environmental protection processes.

In addition, woodfuels play a major socio-economic role in almost all African countries. Within the family, women are generally the most concerned by fuelwood issues since they devote a lot of their time to fuelwood gathering and cooking tasks; charcoal production and marketing on the other hand tend to be more formalized and male-specific, helping to provide jobs and substantial revenue for rural and urban people. These activities represent significant economic value in many countries, accounting for approximately US$ 6 billion for the whole of Africa. More than US$ 1 billion of this amount was made up by charcoal.

Data quality issues

Despite its important interactions with development, environment, and social welfare, there have only been a few attempts in Africa to include woodfuels as a basic sector in planning processes.

Such ambition is seriously hampered by the scarcity, limited scope, and poor quality of existing data, despite several past efforts to improve woodfuel information systems. These shortcomings make it very hard to undertake relevant :

· impact studies of woodfuel use on environment in general and on forestry resources in particular;

· energy and forest planning and forecasting studies.

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