Dwindling reserves of petroleum and artful tampering with its distribution are the stuff of which headlines are made. Yet for more than a third of the world's people, the real energy crisis is a daily scramble to find the wood they need to cook dinner. Their search for wood, once a simple chore and now, as forests recede, a day's labor in some places, has been strangely neglected by diplomats, economists, and the media. But the firewood crisis will be making news - one way or another - for the rest of the century.
- Erik Eckholm, The Other Energy Crisis: Firewood, p. 5
The global firewood crisis
This introduction has a twofold purpose:
1. To provide information on the global firewood crisis and underline the need for action.
2. To explain why fuel-conserving cookstoves are a part of the solution to this crisis.
Let's begin by looking at the scale of the problem (Fig. 0-1):
- The poorest countries rely heavily on wood as a primary energy source. For instance, Nepal derives 87% of all its energy from wood ; in Upper Volta, 94% of all energy is from wood , most of it burned in domestic cooking fires
- Nine out of ten people in the poorer countries of the world
depend on firewood for their chief source of fuel. World wide, 1 500 000 000
people cook and heat with wood, the average family burning about four tons of
wood a year (Fig. 0-1). This is about twice as much wood as each family in the
richer countries uses all together for construction, paper, furniture and
-50 to 70% of all wood used on earth ends up under someone's cooking pot.
Fig. 0-1: The use of woodIn 1974, the world use of wood was as follows 
Developed world: 155 million cubic meters of wood used Firewood = 0.4% of all energy used Firewood = 10% of total wood used
Developing world: 1200 million cubic meters of wood used Firewood = 25% of all energy used Firewood = 90% of total wood used
Fig. 0-2 This stack represents a year's supply
Forests influence the wind, temperature, humidity, soil, and water in ways often discovered only after the trees are cut, and these functions - usually beneficial to people - are sabotaged. Forests assist in the essential global recycling of water, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen - and without any expenditure of irreplaceable fossil fuels. Rainwater falling on tree-covered land tends to soak into the ground rather than to rush off; erosion and flooding are thus reduced, and more water is likely to seep into underground pools and springs.
- Erik Eckholm, Losing Ground, p. 26
The world's forests are rapidly disappearing. As firewood prices climb, more people are forced to use petroleum-based products for fuel. At the same time, soaring oil prices make the shift to petroleum less possible. This in turn leads to increased pressure on the forests to supply more firewood. With both firewood and petroleum-based products too expensive for the poor, they switch to dung, the main fertilizer. The burning of dung depletes soil fertility, lowers crap yields, and contributes to widespread hunger and the migration of people and herds to more habitable land (already scarce) or to already overcrowded cities. In greatly simplified form the situation looks like shown in Figure 0-3. This cycle results in rapid desertification in many parts of the world, with both cropland and range land succumbing rapidly:
"Similar pressures of overgrazing and deforestation in North Africa are having the same consequences. H.N. Le Houerou of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization figures that 100 000 hectares of land are lost to the desert each year due to human activities in Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Tunisia ... India, too, is forfeiting farm" lands and rangelands to desert sands, while vast dry regions, which stretch eastward from the Rajasthan Desert and constitute perhaps a fifth of the country, now present a nearly treeless landscape." 
One third of the land surface of the earth is already desert. The 1977 UN Conference on Desertification reports that the Sahara Desert claims 250 000 acres of once-productive land every year. In the regions of the world now turning into desert wasteland, the lives and livelihoods of some 630 million people are threatened.
Just as the Dust Bowl conditions in the 1930's forced many North American farmers to migrate westward and into large cities, the deteriorating productivity of the land and the encroaching desert now force the people who live in increasingly barren lands to move on. They move to places where they have relatives to help support them, or to areas with less exploited resources, only to repeat the cycle. Whole villages of people in the Sahel are slowly moving southward to escape the desert. Nepalese migrate to the Gangetic lowlands, Peruvians to the eastern slopes of the Andes.
These displaced people migrate to the cities in great numbers. And though the damage done to forests by rural people is more obvious, the increasing urban populations tax the forests even more.
When fuelwood from nearby sources is exhausted, urban people switch from using firewood to charcoal, which has about 45% more potential energy per unit weight than wood and is therefore cheaper to transport long distances. With gasoline and diesel prices rising this trend is likely to continue. However, even with improved processes of making charcoal from wood, at least 60% of the wood's, calorific value is lost; 80% is more typical. Cooking with charcoal uses up 1¼ to 3 times as much wood as cooking with firewood.
Fig 0-4: The unexpected shock, or how the forest disappears :
1. For centuries, the inhabitants of a region have obtained their supplies of wood from their supplies of wood from their local forest.2. However, population rises and more wood is consumed (+2% a year).3. At a certain moment, wood consumption will equal natural production.4. At the beginning, little change is observed.5. After 9 years, 10% of the forest has disappeared. Some concerns begins to be felt.6. After 12 Years, 20% of the forest has disappeared.7. Only 10 years later, the forest has been completely felled. This can be avoid: if consumption is reduced in time. Action must be taken quickly. But beyond a certain point, it is almost impossible to stop deforestation.
The number of humans reached one billion about 1830, two or three million years after our emergence as a distinct species. The second billion was added in one hundred years, and the third billion in thirty years. One day in late 1975, just fifteen years later, world population reached four billion. At the present rate of growth, the fifth billion will come in thirteen years and the sixth in ten years after that.
- Erik Eckholm, Losing Ground, pp. 18-19
Figure 0-4 shows how an increasing population can have disastrous effects on nearby forests within a relatively short time span.
It must however be understood that population growth alone has not brought about the destruction of the world's forests. Inefficient use of the forest resources and outright waste also contribute. Poor planning and the lack of intensive long term deforestation further compound the problem, and above all, the unnecessary quantities of wood cut to feed wasteful cooking fires contribute more to the problem than any other factor.
Possible solutions to the global firewood crisis
Reforestation, use of alternative fuels and fuel conservation through improved stoves are the three methods which offer possible solutions to the firewood crisis, though, in the long term, only a reduction in the rate of population growth can solidify any gains made.
The magnitude of reforestation needed is enormous. Two examples:
"... to supply 30 million Salience in the year 2000 ... 3 to 6 million hectares will have to be planted, which involves planting an average 150 000 to 300 000 hectares of forest annually up to the end ot the century." 
"In order to meet demands for fuelwood ..., Nepal will require about 1.3 million hectares of plantations by the end of the century. To provide this, a national reafforestation program has been recommended under which 32 000 hectares of village woodlot would be planted annually in the Hills and 20 000 hectares in the Terai over the next twenty years." 
Reforestation programs have been started in many countries, but the high rate of growth in demand means that forests are being cut much faster than they are being replanted. Those countries in direst need have the least capital to invest in sustained yield forestry. Even where substantial reforestation is being done, new plantings have no hope of catching up with clearance. In the Sahel, for instance, plantings now make up for only 2% of the loss annually.
Firewood cannot be gathered for at least 7 to 10 years following the start of most reforestation projects, and the plantations must be protected during that time to avoid 'their destruction by people and animals whose need for fuel and fodder is immediate. Too often, reforestation is seen by local people as 'government plantings'. They have no feeling of ownership of the new plantations, and have no guarantee of benefits to themselves. The result is surreptitious cutting, grazing of animals and sometimes even deliberate burning to produce pasture.
Fortunately trees, unlike oil, are a renewable resource when
properly managed. The logical immediate response to the firewood shortage, one
that will have many incidental ecological benefits, is to plant more trees in
plantations, on farms, along roads, in shelter belts, and on unused land
throughout the rural areas of the poor countries. For many regions, fast-growing
tree varieties are available that can be culled for firewood inside of a
- Erik Eckholm, The Other Energy Crisis: Firewood, p. 14
Alternative sources of cooking fuel
As the cutting of wood for cooking fuel contributes so heavily to worldwide deforestation, the solution to the problem would seem at first glance to be easy: substitute other cooking fuels for wood. To do so, at present, is beyond the means of most poor people who cannot afford these fuels, even if available. At least in rural areas, firewood can usually be gathered free of cost, though the time needed to gather it takes longer and longer.
To supply enough petroleum or coal to provide for people's cooking needs is beyond the means of poor countries which would have to import them. The price of oil and coal continues to rise, mainly due to the high demand placed on them by the 'overdeveloped' world. Poor countries, with limited foreign exchange, cannot afford these fuels in quantity. For example:
"Wood - an irreplaceable fuel
- It is estimated that total firewood consumption in the Sahel is at least 16 million m³/year (or 12 million tons), corresponding to 0.6 m³ /per person per year.
- If wood were to be replaced by oil products, more than 2.5 million tons of oil would have to be imported every year (on the assumption that oil is used twice as efficiently as wood), i.e. almost three times the Sahel's current consumption of oil. In present circumstances, these imports would cost more than 60 billion CFA francs/year in foreign currency.
- Towards the end of the century, with a population of 50 million, and with world oil prices twice their present level, almost 240 billion CFA francs in foreign currency would be spent annually on these imports. This is out of the question.
- One may also think in terms of the cost "per inhabitant": the import cost of the substitute fuel would be:
2 000 CFA francs per person per year or $ 9 in 1978, i.e. 7.5% of the current level of GNP per capita ($ 120).
4 000 CFA francs per person per year, i.e. $ 18 towards the year 2000.
This unit cost is utterly, unbearable, the more so as refining, transport, storage and distribution costs and outlays by households for gas cooking stoves, bottles, etc., should be added in. These extra costs could more than double the import price of unrefined oil.
In other words, oil products cannot, in practice, replace wood on a large scale, as the substitution could not be borne by the economies of the Sahel countries. " 
These fuels should be considered as alternatives for instance in such countries as India, which has coal reserves, and Mexico, which produces its own petrochemicals. Costs to the householder must be kept below the world market price, however, to make them affordable to the poor. Temporary subsidies for petroleum products or coal as cooking fuels should be con" sidered where pressure on the forests is acute.
Biogas and solar energy have been promoted as other alternative means of providing heat for cooking. China, for instance, has installed several million biogas plants. Biogas is appealing because it uses manures and other organic waste to generate the gas while leaving a useable compost for fertilizer. However, biogas is not suited to small scale production and installation costs are often high.
Solar cookers are already available, but their high initial cost makes them unaffordable by the poor. They are unacceptable in areas with long cloudy periods or where the main meal is early or late in the day. They need further development to make them better suited to more people's needs, for example by including heat storage for times when the sun isn't shining. Another problem with both solar cookers and biogas systems is that they are often seen as being too different from current cooking systems to be culturally acceptable. Solar ovens, though limited to baking and slow cooking, are relatively inexpensive and may therefore gain more widespread acceptance.
Solar energy is well suited to some uses such as water heating and space: heating that might otherwise require firewood. The introduction of solar water heaters and modifications for solar heating of buildings should be investigated, as they would free up more firewood to be used for cooking.
In many countries the use of charcoal is increasing. Charcoal production, however, uses 1¼ to 3 times as much wood to deliver the same amount of energy for cooking, thus exacerbating rather than alleviating the demand for wood (Fig. 0-5).
Fig. 0-5: Comparison of the quantity of wood required for the same amount of useful heat (to boil 1000 litres of water), using wood or charcoal in current models of cooking stoves .
Charcoal should therefore not be considered an alternative cooking fuel. Where charcoal is currently being used it would be wise to provide assistance in improving the efficiency of both charcoal burning stoves and charcoal production processes. It might, however, be preferable to introduce more efficient wood-burning cookstoves. Far greater overall - savings of wood would result. (See Chapter 7 for improved charcoal stoves.)
Fuel conservation and improved cookstoves
Wood is an irreplaceable fuel in many countries today and will continue to be irreplaceable for a long time to come. The most immediate way to decrease its use as cooking fuel is to introduce improved wood- and charcoal-burning cookstoves. Simple stove models already in use can halve the use of firewood. A concerted effort to develop more efficient models might reduce this figure to 1/3 or 1/4, saving more forests than all of the replanting efforts planned for the rest of the century.
"Yet, using simple hearths such as those used in India, Indonesia, Guatemala and elsewhere, one-third as much wood would provide the same service.
These clay "cookers" are usually built on the spot with a closed hearth, holes in which to place the vessels to be heated, and a short chimney for the draught. Their energy yield varies, depending on the model, between approximately 15 and 25%.
If these "cookers" were used throughout the Sahel, firewood consumption would be reduced by two-thirds: 0.2 m³ instead of 0.6 m³ per person per year...
Use of these improved cooking stoves has an immediate and lasting effect on wood consumption." 
In terms of cost, the introduction of fuel saving cookstoves compares very favorably with other programs. For example in Uttar Pradesh one reforestation project "contemplates spending $ 46 million to provide the fuel required by 90 000 households and other benefits. If $ 23 million of the costs are allocated to fuelwood the investment in fuel supply is $ 256 per household. Improved stoves, on the other hand, are expected to cost $ 5 and save half the fuel used by a household. Building 180 000 stoves would be equivalent to providing fuel for 90 000 households and cost only $ 09 million, or $ 10 per household. Thus, stoves have a 25 :1 estimated cost advantage over tree planting as well as having the advantages of providing benefits without a long waiting period and directly to the households which participate." 
There are clear benefits of improved cookstoves to the individual family, the local community, the nation and the global community. In brief, they include:
A. Potential benefits to the family:
- Less time spent gathering wood or less money spent on fuel,- less smoke in the kitchen; lessening of respiratory problems associated with smoke inhalation,- less manure used as fuel, releasing more fertilizer for agriculture,- little initial cost compared to most other kinds of cookers, - improved hygiene with models that raise cooking off the floor, - safety: fewer burns from open flames; less chance of children falling into the fire or boiling pots; if pots are securely set into the stove, less chance of children pulling them down on themselves,- cooking convenience: stoves can be made to any height and can have work space on the surface, - the fire requires less attention, as stoves with damper control can be easier to tend.
B. Potential benefits to the local community:
- Stove building may create new jobs,- potential for using local materials and- potential for local innovations,- money and time saved can be invested elsewhere in the community.
C. Potential benefits to the nation:
- Lowered rate of deforestation improves climate, wood supply and hydrology; decreases soil erosion,- potential for reducing dependence on imported fuel,- potential for short-range solution to deforestation while long-range reforestation programs get underway,- cost of providing improved cookstoves is low compared with other means of fighting deforestation.
D. Potential benefits to the global community:
- Stoves can slow down the rate of deforestation and desertification,- they allow time for reforestation projects to gain a foothold and help to change the balance toward extending forested areas once again.
Engineers build one dam after another, paying only modest heed to the farming practices and deforestation upstream that will, by influencing river silt loads, determine the dams' lifespan. Agricultural economists project regional food production far into the future using elaborate, computerized models, but without taking into account the deteriorating soil quality or the mounting frequency of floods that will under" cut it. Water resource specialists sink wells on the desert fringes with no arrangement to control nearby herd sizes, thus ensuring overgrazing and the creation of new tracts of desert. Foresters who must plant and protect trees among the livestock and firewood gatherers of the rural peasantry receive excellent training in botany and silviculture, but none in rural sociology; their saplings are destroyed by cattle, goats, and firewood seekers within weeks after planting.
- Erik Eckholm, Losing Ground, pp. 21-22
A note to policymakers and politicians
Improved stove technology is an element of comprehensive planning. Because of the magnitude of deforestation and desertification and the consequences which follow them, there is a grave urgency for action. Programs should be comprehensive integrated actions, aimed at both short and long-term solutions. Large scale reforestation programs and the better management of existing forests should be dovetailed into developing alternative energy sources for cooking, and into the introduction of fuel-efficient cookstoves. Comprehensive planning must also include such interrelated areas as literacy and education, health, birth control, nutrition, watershed planning, upgrading agriculture, urban sanitation and support for small businesses contributing to energy efficiency.
At the national level there is a need for broadest thinking. In many countries the whole energy budget leans heavily on firewood production. How that resource is used will largely determine the future of the country. National economic planning should now include stoves; their widespread use could affect national fiscal and demographic planning. Fuel conserving cookstoves are not simply a matter of domestic convenience for poor people; the economic autonomy of many poorer nations partially depends on them.
Where should a poor country invest? Where can foreign aid be best spent? As the fast growing populations of urban poor switch from using wood to charcoal, their demand on firewood resources will explode. Already in many countries the urban minority uses more wood than the rural majority because of inefficiencies in the production of charcoal. Future efforts must be directed at simple, fuel-saving cooking devices for city people.
For countries where the fuel scarcity is acute, an emergency program of subsidized kerosene or coal should be considered (Senegal, by comparison, subsidizes charcoal, which accelerates the problem of deforestation). Large initial subsidies could be gradually withdrawn over, for instance, ten years. This would encourage people to use fossil fuels which are at present too expensive for them, giving time to implement a massive firewood plantation scheme, to introduce pressure cookers, heat retaining cookers and other fuelconserving tools and to enlist public support for treating the fuel shortage as a major emergency.