Fuel for food

  • 14/06/1998

Fuel for food  a group discussion was conducted with the women of Piparala, a village without out any surface irrigation facilities and very limited groundwater. What emerged from the discussion is that the main sources of cooking fuel are crop residue (mainly cotton as other crops like jowar and bajra stalks are used as fodder), tree lopping, hedge cutting and bushes (such as awal) which are found in abundance in Piparala, cowdung and kerosene. After listing these cooking fuels, an assessment on the lines of Participatory Rural Appraisal was conducted which brought out the supply position. (see table: Fuelwood in Piparala)

The most striking features of the prevailing situation are:

P juliflora has been the mainstay of such villages, dependent upon erratic, scanty rainfall without access to either forest produce or planting of trees with irrigation facilities. Here, forestry expert N C Saxena"s statement, "P juliflora appears to have solved the fuelwood crisis on its own," in Anil Agarwal"s article is indeed noteworthy.

Cotton stalks are becoming increasingly important as fuelwood though the women complained that its burning creates too much smoke. And as it was remarked in Anil Agarwal"s article, smokeless chula has not spread in most of the households in such areas.

Use of cowdung is diminishing even in such areas. This has also been brought out in an article published in Margin entitled "Firewood Balance in the Nineties" by I Natrajan.

l Besides P juliflora, even in dry areas there is a variety of vegetation that supply fuelwood through out the year. On the whole, women did not consider fuelwood as a very important problem. They have developed enough skills to remove the thorns, cut and dry the branches and twigs for 15 days in their own courtyard before using as fuel. This only confirms what has been brought out in "False Predictions."

Fuelwood in Piparala
Supply position of cooking fuel
Fuel Item 1998 1998 2008
Hedges 5 5 -
Awal 4 4 -
Prosopis juliflora 2 2 -
Desi Baval - - -
Gorad (tree) 3 3 2
Cotton stalks 5 1 1
P juliflora - 1 1
Desi Baval 4 2 2
Ber 1 3 3
Awal 2 4 4
Gorad (tree) 3 5 4
Khakra (tree) 5 7* 4
Padasi (tree) 6 6 -
Cowdung cake most perferred Less used less Expected to be
Kerosene Only for lighting less scattered used
Bigas No do yes
Gas (LPG) No No yes
*collected from Darbar Beads (private grasslands) without any kind of permission LPG: Liquified Petroleum Gas

In areas which are not arid or semi-arid, degradation of forest land has been taking place, perhaps, to meet the requirements of urban folks. However, their demand would decline as more and more of them turn to non-wood based fuel. Therefore, cutting of trees to sell branches and twigs as fuelwood is also expected to decline. In some cases, there has been widespread plantation of trees in private homes to meet the domestic needs. For two decades, there have been stories about a catastrophic situation in countries, like India, where there would be foodgrains available but not fuel for cooking. We have not experienced such a scenario so far and are never likely to experience one. This is not because of social forestry programmes. These programmes did not address issues which local people consider important, like meeting their fuelwood needs. Furthermore, it was never planned with genuine participation of local people.

Gill Shephered"s article, "Social Forestry, Fuelwood and The Environment", in Network Paper 11A (Winter 1990 of odi Social Forestry Network) will help in further understanding the fuelwood scenario.

"With hindsight, a more ingenious woodlot programme was needed which, while it met state-level aims, was also at the same time tailored to meet the separate needs of identified groups. These could have been, on the one hand woodlots aimed at providing sellable poles or firewood to towns and raising cash for mandal panchayats on the other, seeded areas of species which could be used, without money changing hands, by villagers for their own firewood and fodder needs. Careful sifting of each type of woodlot could have made sure that lands nearest to the villages were put to subsistence use, and remoter sites reserved for Mandal Panchayat revenue earning plantations.

"The history of many parts of the world shows a clear pattern. People clear forest or bush for cultivation, and at first have little incentive to plant trees because uncleared resources are still not so far away. But as others clear their own fields, gradually these resources recede further and further away. Over the decades, a time will come when the first comers, furthest from the woodland expeditions for "free" biomass, will gradually become a part of the farm economy. The first shortage is always for poles; fuelwood shortages come far later, if at all."

Anil Shah is the chairman of Development Support Centre, Ahmedabad.

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