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By Professor Nils Nykvist
Collection of firewood
For cooking and for heating of their houses, people need energy
that in developed countries mostly comes from electricity and fossil fuels. However, for more than a third of the world’s population, the greatest problem is to collect enough firewood to cook their food . In savannah areas the estimated consumption of firewood is about 6 tons of dry wood per household per year, which is equivalent to about 16 kilograms per day.
In many cities people prefer to burn charcoal, which often is produced in very primitive pits, where one kilogram of dry wood only yields 0.2 kilogram of charcoal. In the Tanzanian capital, Dar Es Salaam, people in the early 1970s got their charcoal from an area within a radius of 50 kilometres. About 20 years later, this radius had increased to 200 kilometers .
In the former capital of Ethiopia, the lack of firewood was so great that the emperor in the late 1880s, Menilek II, decided to move the capital to a woodier place . Large areas just outside the new town were planted with forests, and today Addis Ababa is surrounded by great plantations of eucalyptus trees that supply the town with firewood (Fig. 12).
Figure 12. In Ethiopia people use not only wood as fuel for cooking but also leaves, which leads to a greater impoverishment of the soil, because leaves are much more nutrient-rich than wood.
Population growth has led to a shortage of firewood that in many areas has become so great that crop residues from agriculture are used as fuel. This means that the soil’s capacity to retain water and nutrients will be less, due to a decrease of the raw material for humus.
When the harvesting of leftovers from cultivation is not enough, some countries use cow dung as fuel. In a survey reported by the World Bank in 1984, it has been estimated that the cow manure that was used as fuel in Ethiopia represents a loss of plant nutrients which, converted to the costs for the equivalent amounts of fertilizers, was more than 100 million dollars per year .
Ethiopia is, unfortunately, no exception. The harvest in Ethiopia could have been increased up to 20%, if people had used firewood instead of cow manure. In some parts of India it is common to see piles of cow dung for sale along the roadside (Fig. 13).
Figure 13. Storage of cow dung for sale along a road in northern India.
Forest resources in developing countries have fallen sharply over the years because of cultivation, collection of firewood, and large numbers of cattle grazing the small tree seedlings.
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for this article.
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