Wood or charcoal?
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Keita, Jean-Djiqui. 1988. Wood or charcoal?. Spore 18. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Jean-Djiqui Keita Jean-Djiqui Keita was born in Mali and educated in France. He was Chief of the Soils Conservation Division, Forestry Directorate and then Director of Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife in Mali. Since 1978 he has been the FAO Senior...
Jean-Djiqui Keita Jean-Djiqui Keita was born in Mali and educated in France. He was Chief of the Soils Conservation Division, Forestry Directorate and then Director of Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife in Mali. Since 1978 he has been the FAO Senior Regional Forestry Officer for Africa based in Accra, Ghana. The need for wood as a source of domestic fuel is now a serious cause of the accelerating process of desertification in the Sahel-Sudan regions of Africa. Rapid population growth, particularly among the urban poor, has increased pressure on limited forestry resources. However, the possibility of the wide-spread adoption of alternative energy sources seems limited, to say the least, because of the inherent economic and social problems. Obviously, therefore, those countries which are threatened by desertification, will, together with aid and development organizations, initiate projects to conserve firewood, which is why schemes for improved burning systems have mushroomed in the Sahel The use of charcoal has come in for considerable criticism in the campaign against wastage of wood. Charcoal-making often wastes more than 60%, especially when there is only patchy carbonization, as is usually the case in Africa. However, in everyday use charcoal wastes less energy than wood. In traditional wood-burning firestoves wood can release only about 8% of its potential energy, and this is so particularly of the three-stone stove which gives out only 5%. For every kilo of wood only 280 kcals are used. Traditional charcoal-burning stoves have an average output of 28% of the available energy. Thus one kilo of wood turned into charcoal will give 420 kcals in a domestic stove. These calculations demonstrate that charcoal wins as far as energy economy is concerned. But there are numerous variables, and one can project figures with different carbon/stove ratios, the calorific power of wood, and so on. The Stove Improvements Scheme's own research shows that it is difficult to get a 20% return from woodburning stoves. Charcoal-burning stoves, however, will achieve 40% yields, and if one includes improved carbonization return of 16% to 30% then it will be seen that 25% of the total energy will be utilized. Woodburning would become viable if output from wood-burning stoves rose beyond 20-25% The use of charcoal in towns has even more advantages in terms of energy conservation -- in the field of transport. If the radius of the supply of fuel wood exceeds 150-200 km from the town, then more energy from fossil fuels will have been consumed than has been transported. Charcoal, on the other hand, can be transported more than 2000 km. It is vital, however, to take into account the following facts in the formulation of an energy policy based on forestry concerns. Charcoal allows energy sources to be situated farther afield. Energy development policy must therefore consider separately urban and rural problems. Firewood for rural. communities must, where possible, be produced in the immediate vicinity. In contrast, charcoal for urban use, can come from areas further away which are more suited to forestry development. The basic problem here is one of transferring energy sources and this must not be seen solely as the task of forestry administrations. It might even perhaps be considered, as an international commercial vensure. The most pressing problem for forestry in sub-Saharan Africa is the supply of domestic energy to the majority of the population -- a problem which may be expected to continue for a long time. It goes without saying that every saving of energy has an immediate effect on both forests and the environment, particularly in large towns where the concentration of population inevitably involves over-exploitation of forests. Furthermore, if the use of charcoal means that energy can be brought in from further afield, it will help ease the pressure on forests near the towns. If the decision to promote the use of charcoal instead of wood in towns is taken, there will be certain implications for both forestry policy and development: - priority must be given to husbanding existing resources. These will be used to meet the fuel needs of the urban populations, wherever they may be; - transport of these resources must assume a prime position in forestry policy in countries where there are both wood-growing and nonwood-growing areas - in considering reforestation in relation to the energy needs of large towns, the prevailing climatic and edaphic conditions must carry more weight than the proximity of the consumer. Thus greater flexibility will be achieved, allowing block plantation in favourable zones. Plantations under these conditions must therefore be considered as economically viable enterprises; - the perfection and distribution of charcoal-burning stoves: any policy aimed at saving energy must start with a reduced consumption of resources. This is where the impact will be most felt; - improvement of carbonization: this is the second most important element in fuel economy. Rapid results can be expected in this field since it is relatively easy to train the small number of people involved. Forestry administrations must make training a priority. In the interests of both energy conservation and environmental protection, accelerating urbanization must bring with it a concerted effort towards promoting the use of charcoal against wood. In this way charcoal will become a highly marketable product that can take its place in lone-distance trade. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily those of CTA.
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