Easing the energy pressure

21 January 2011 | News story

Some 1.4 billion people—about a fifth of the global population—do not have access to modern energy sources, and 2.7 billion people—or 40% of the global population—depend on traditional biomass sources such as firewood for cooking.

This takes a huge toll both on the people, often women and children, who have to walk long distances to collect fuel, and on the world’s forests and woodlands. The issue is particularly challenging for developing countries in sub Saharan Africa—as one example, about 80% of Burkina Faso’s energy is provided by vegetation.

In eastern Sudan, where forest cover is low and dispersed, domestic demand for fuelwood means that women in particular have to spend long periods searching for and collecting firewood. This has been identified in local planning, and as a result, several communities are now working with the forest administration to restore small patches of natural woodland of Acacia Senegal, a tree that is highly valued as a source of gum arabic.

These woodlands now provide a commodity that can be collected and traded by local people and provide important sources of firewood. IUCN is supporting the development of local associations who are being trained in local forest management, as well as economic skills related to the marketing of gum arabic.

In Burundi, around the border of the Kibira National Park, IUCN is helping households with a range of measures designed to increase local supplies of forest products through agroforestry. Multi-purpose trees and shrubs are being grown in local tree nurseries and grown alongside crops on farms. Local people are also given training on how to produce and install domestic energy-saving cook stoves which is helping to ease the pressure on natural resources.

In India, IUCN Member Winrock International targets heavy users of fuelwood such as small and medium enterprises. One successful project involved roadside eateries in Andra Pradesh, where investment costs of US$ 200 per energy-efficient stove can be quickly recovered, while reducing wood use by 50%, benefiting both biodiversity and incomes.

“The use of wood for energy has the potential to be sustainable, though the rate of use may be unsustainable. It is this use which we need to target, to ensure that forest communities can benefit from their natural resources,” says Nadine McCormick IUCN’s Energy Network Coordinator. “Where not sustainable, renewable alternatives need to be promoted.”

For more information contact:

Nadine McCormick, e. nadine.mccormick@iucn.org