(with useful downloadable files at bottom of this page)
For thousands of years, firewood for domestic use has been gathered by women, working either in groups or alone. They would collect dead limbs and twigs from the ground, then bundle and hoist these onto their backs or atop their heads to carry home. Only recently has gathered wood begun to be valued in monetary terms. The effort involved in its collection has never gone unappreciated by the gatherers, and consequently they tended to use it with some care.
Population pressures today require women to go farther afield to find firewood, and particularly in some areas of nations suffering political upheaval, these women are vulnerable to rape and abduction. Given the increasing scarcity of this once easily collectable resource, live trees and bushes are hacked and pieces brought back for use. This use of green wood leads to smoky, inefficient fires that are very much responsible for respiratory ailments, particularly among infants. Much has been written about smoke, “the Killer in the Kitchen” by groups such as WHO, Practical Action, Sparkman Center for Global Health, and SIFAT (Servants in Faith and Technology).
At the same time, urban and peri-urban demand for charcoal is ever increasing. Less smoky, with approximately twice the energy value of wood, weight for weight, it is a desirable cooking fuel. The drawback, however, is that it takes about 5 tons of wood to make a ton of charcoal. Much energy is lost when wood is reduced to charcoal. Many kilns are inefficient. It is not rare for whole piles to go up in smoke because of poor kiln construction and lighting.
Charcoal making and selling is a big business in Africa. Much of the wood from which it is made comes from land cleared for agriculture or urban expansion, or sadly, it is sometimes poached from Protected or National Forests. In some places the charcoal trade funds guerrillas and finances self-declared fiefdoms of armed gangs in war ravaged areas (see the July 2008 National Geographic article, “Who murdered the Virunga Gorillas?” by Mark Jenkins). Rampant, uncontrolled production of charcoal has led to serious soil degradation and erosion. Probably the worst example, not in Africa, is Haiti.
—–> Fuelwood for Sale (View Slideshow!) <—–
Logs sold today to large fuelwood purchasers often originate hundreds of kilometers away. Schools, military barracks, prisons, maternity wards, facilities where large amounts of food are prepared, have delivery trucks dump loads of tangled limbs near their kitchens. Cooks wrestle with the large pieces, carrying or dragging them to three-stone fires. Often, when the wood is green, it yields low energy-yielding, smoky fires, much of the energy simply going into drying the wood itself. This valuable resource is squandered.
Enormous savings could be realized by having the wood cut, split, and stacked into sheds for use when it is at least two months dry. Further, with the use of efficient stoves, woodfuel consumption could be conservatively reduced by 60% to 75%.
What follows are fuelwood management files excerpted from the Bellerive Foundation’s fuelwood energy management program that served our institutional stove project in East Africa: How to Cut & Split & Store Firewood, Building a Woodstool, Building a Wood Storage Shed, Building a Platform for Large Capacity Stoves. These materials were written by Chris Davey, former Regional Manager, Bellerive Foundation, Nairobi, Kenya. Feel free to download the pdf files below.