Tanzania seeks long-term solutions to forest loss and energy crisis

19 Oct 2010

The sight of men on bicycles carrying firewood and charcoal is a common one throughout Tanzania: It is the human face of deforestation.

The business of unsustainable logging is flourishing, with more than 39 million, or 90 percent, of Tanzania’s population relying for household cooking fuel on firewood and charcoal, which are also the primary energy sources for brick and tobacco-curing industries.

As a result, the country’s forest cover has reduced over the last 40 years from 6.3 hectares per capita in 1961 to around .08 hectares in 2009, leaving behind miles of barren land incapable of absorbing water or supporting plant life of agriculture.

With only a minority of Tanzania connected to the electricity grid—12 percent nationally, down to about 2 percent in rural areas—the country is facing a critical energy crisis, which United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is addressing through a pilot project to reduce firewood use by 50 percent.

Working with a sample of 40,000 people, the project involves district-level training to increase the efficiency of biofuels by, for example, using techniques to thoroughly dry out wood, making sawdust bricks and switching to improved clay firewood stoves.
The long-term objective is for policy makers and planners to ensure that all current and upcoming public programmes work towards providing affordable, reliable and sustainable energy services.

“We want to demonstrate the best existing energy technologies that can be easily adopted by the poor,” said Bariki Kaale, UNDP Tanzania forest expert. “We need to encourage people to make the most of the energy sources they use. They are using 1,000 kilograms of wood to produce 100 kilograms of charcoal when they could triple the amount of charcoal while using much less wood.”

It is estimated that if all households in the country started using improved firewood stoves, deforestation could be reduced by around 206,000 hectares per year. This in turn would enhance the conservation of water resources and biodiversity, and reduce deforestation’s contribution to climate change.