Fuel wood, the traditional energy source for the great majority of rural Africans, is in very short supply in many of the outlying areas. In these areas the average population cannot afford to buy energy, including wood, which is transported from other areas. The best solution in these circumstances is considered to be tree planting in the form of farm woodlots. In urban areas, consumers pay very high prices for fuel wood often bought in small bundles so that the high cost is not so obvious at first. This is often due to profiteering by firewood merchants, combined with high transport costs.
Often mentioned is the difficulty of obtaining land for plantations. However, even 50 or 100 trees planted in an odd corner next to dwellings or a rocky kopje materially alleviates the fuel wood situation. Taking land for trees does not inevitably reduce agricultural productivity, it in fact it is more likely to enhance it. If the farming landscape is bare of trees, agricultural yields drop because dung and crop residues are used as fuel instead of being put back on the land, drying winds are not checked and the livestock are without shade. Trees convey many types of benefit not only as fuel wood. For instance, trees should also be planted specifically to provide fruits (mangoes, guavas, mulberries etc.) fodder and to encouragebees.
PRESERVATION OF INDIGENOUS WOODLAND
In areas where indigenous woodland still remains in fair quantity, such woodland could be set aside, protected and managed to provide a sustained yield of wood. Such woodland areas could at the same time be managed for other purposes, e.g. for catchment protection or prevention of soil erosion.
It is an economic fact of life in many African countries that wood which could he used for fuel in tribal areas where it is desperately needed is instead burnt where it is produced because there is no use for it on site and it is apparently uneconomic to transport it to where it might be sold andused.
The three main types of wasted wood are as follows:
- Wood felled in clearing new land for arable crops or to improvegrazing;
- Waste wood from forestry operations or from sawmilling operations;and
- Waste wood from urban wood processing industries (box or furniture manufacture,etc.)
In all cases it is the transport cost element which raises the delivered cost of bulky wood fuel to an unacceptable level at the point of delivery. Due to the transport element, the delivered cost of wood fuel may be higher than that of alternative fuels available. The possibilities of utilising waste wood have not been fully explored yet.
It is in this area that the production of charcoal could become very important as it already is in many other countries.
For the rural farmer the most likely alternative sources of energy to charcoal are air-dried firewood, coal and paraffin, with firewood being the cheapest option and paraffin the most expensive.
- Firewood has a calorific value ratio of1;
- Coal has a calorific value ratio of 1.97;and
- Paraffin has a calorific value ratio of2.97.
It is strongly recommended that all farmers whether in the rural or commercial areas and whatever their income, should maintain areas and belts of trees on their farms for many important reasons, quite apart from energy supplies. The tree cover can be in the form of indigenous woodland or plantations.