ON March 21 this year, the globe will be commemorating World Forest Day. This is one of the world's leading global platforms for people with an interest in forests and climate change, to share their views and work together, to ensure forests are suitably incorporated into any future climate change mitigation and adaption strategies.
Available data have it that each year more than 13 million hectares (32 million acres) of forests are lost. As go the forests so goes the plant and animal species they embrace - 80 per cent of all terrestrial biodiversity. Most importantly, forests play a crucial role in climate change including global warming.
Deforestation causes 12-18 per cent of the world's carbon emissions - almost equal to all the carbon dioxide from the global transport sector. Equally crucial, healthy forests are one of the world's primary 'carbon sinks.' Ecologists believe that it is not too late to reverse this destructive trend if the world acts now.
Forests still cover more than 30 per cent of all the world's land and contain more than 60,000 tree species, many still undiscovered. The forests support the livelihoods of 1.6 billion of the world's poorest people by providing food, fibre, water and medicines, as well as regulating environments.
Those supported include indigenous peoples with unique and precious cultures. The inaugural Forest Day was one of the major events at United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) 13 in Bali, Indonesia on December 7, 2007.
More than 800 people participated in that Forest Day, including scientists, members of national delegations, and representatives from intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. A major feature of Forest Day was four parallel panel discussions focusing on crosscutting themes related to forests and climate change.
To save forests, alternative energy is needed to reduce extensively the use of firewood for cooking and other domestic uses. A research done recently by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in some districts has revealed that successful use of the constructed 13,301 improved biomass stoves (6,651 household each with two stoves) in Tanzania can reduce firewood consumption from 39,906 cubic m through using unimproved stove to 19,952 cubic m.
The monetary value for the wood saved per annum based on current firewood prices in Kwimba, Ukerewe and Moshi district (200,000/- per cubic m) is around 2.5bn/- or 1,256,945 US dollars. The Director of Tanzania Specialist Organization on Community Natural Resources and Biodiversity Conservation (TASONABI), Mr Bariki Kaale, says that reduction of 19,952 cubic metres of firewood from the pilot villages can minimize firewood harvesting from woodlands that could result to conservation of over 998 ha of woodlands.
"Tree growing efforts on agro-forestry and conservation of village woodlands are also encouraged to intensify future supply of woodfuel. Value of money saved for raising seedling to plant the 998 ha is around 3.2bn/- or 1,596,120 US dollars at nominal cost of 200/- per tree seedling", says Mr Kaale.
According to him, women and children could save around 2,766,608 hours for collecting firewood with estimated value of 1,383,304 US dollars or 2.8bn/- at nominal cost of US dollar cents fifty per effective hour used for fetching firewood.
"Use of unimproved biomass stove by the 6,652 households covered in the pilot villages is contributing around 159,612 tonnes of carbon dioxide (tCO2) per annum at the average of 4tCO2 per cubic metre of firewood", he says. While making improved biomass stoves, family members participate in collection of construction material (clay and sand), and they also participate in construction of the stove with technical assistance from artisans as part of institutional capacity building.
Construction of durable and efficient stove fire chamber is the main element requiring significant experience and skill. UNDP average direct costs for facilitating construction of an improved biomass stove is around 5 US dollars mainly supporting the artisans as component of developing local institutional capacity.
Districts are providing extension workers and transport facilities while household members are collecting construction raw material and participate in construction of stoves.
According to Mr Kaale, participatory monitoring and evaluation on the performance of the constructed stoves is conducted periodically using multisectoral stakeholders from government ministries, representatives of women groups, representatives of NGOs, Mass Media, UNDP and users of household stoves.
Women groups interviewed confirmed that the stoves have provided various tangible benefits contributing to rapid improvement of their livelihood. Some of the benefits stated include reduction of firewood collection and use.
With 3- stone stove, the women reported that they used to collect at least two head loads of firewood (each weighing around 25-30 kg) and using around 8 hours per round trip or 16 hours per week. Now they are collecting only one head load of firewood per week hence saving almost 50 per cent of firewood and around 8 hours.
This confirms that the improved biomass stoves have reduced smoke in the kitchen hence reducing indoor pollution. Depending on kitchen management, cooking time for most food types has been reduced by around 40 per cent, while incidences of children burns in the kitchen have also been reduced.
Kaale says that time saved is used for implementing other development activities. Costs for purchasing firewood have been reduced significantly for those purchasing firewood. Mr Kaale argues that biomass fuels for the foreseeable future will remain the main energy source for the household sector in Tanzania due to low income levels by the majority of people and unavailability of reliable energy alternatives.
"However, even with the high level of consumption and dependency on biomass fuels, the country has no firm strategy to ensure sustainable supply of biomass and realistic upward fuel switch opportunities".
The UNDP report has noted that government priority is development of electricity mainly for industrial, commercial and the service sectors with little linkage for energy needs for cooking. The reports cites the Ministry of Energy and Minerals Budget speech for 2011/2012 which had 76 paragraphs on energy of which biomass for cooking was mentioned in one paragraph, that was encouraging use of biogas to replace firewood.
Field experience in all regions of Tanzania has confirmed that utilisation of biomass fuels is non renewable as estimated sustainable supply of wood resources is around 18 million cubic m (mean annual increment) while annual consumption of biomass is over 50 million cubic m.
"As a result of non renewable forest harvesting coupled with rapid annual population growth of 2,9%, the country's forest cover has declined over the past 50 years from 6.3 hectares per capita in 1961 to around 0.7 ha per capita in 2010", says the UNDP report in part.
Unfortunately, says Mr Kaale, forest resources in Tanzania are not evenly distributed, as a result some regions have almost exhausted their forests with per capita forest cover of less than 0.01 ha, like Mwanza and Kilimanjaro regions to cite a few.
Continuing non renewable exploitation of forest resources to meet energy demand is contributing to deforestation, destruction of water catchment areas, loss of biodiversity resources and climate change.
Mr Kaale says that to attain MKUKUTA and MDG goals and sustainable development at household level, Tanzania should critically review its energy policy and implementation strategies with objectives of ensuring affordable and reliable energy services to all citizens and in particular energy for household cooking that accounts for over 90 per cent of the total energy consumed in Tanzania.
The current situation of giving special priority to development of electricity and ignoring other energy sources used by the majority of the population will erode most of our development efforts in the near future.
Experience from UNDP shows that with political and policy willingness, Tanzania has many opportunities of ensuring availability of affordable and sustainable energy services to the majority of the low income population as briefly described below.
UNDP in collaboration with relevant stakeholders namely: Ministry of Energy and Minerals, Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (Forest and Beekeeping Division), PMO-RALG, VPO, Regional Secretariats and LGAs in Mwanza and Kilimanjaro regions conducted participatory in-depth socio economic studies to determine the underlying causes of household energy scarcity to the majority of the population and explore existing opportunities for solving the problem through participatory community efforts.
Result showed that lack of effective enabling policy support and low community knowledge of existing technologies for efficient energy technologies were hindering factors. Based on the socioeconomic results, UNDP facilitated development of enabling policy environment for supporting provision of efficient energy sources to the majority of the rural communities.
At national and regional levels, Rural Energy Working Groups consisting of representatives from Government ministries, High learning institutions, Research institutions, NGOs and the Mass media were formed. Energy being a crosscutting field, participatory training sessions on the roles of reliable energy supply for attaining sector development plans was conducted.
Main results from the trainings that involved over 700 participants from national, regional and district levels were: the need to mainstream energy and environmental conservation in sector development plans and strategies and to disseminate energy efficient technologies for meeting energy needs for household cooking, in particular introduction of improved biomass fuels.
Construction of improved firewood stoves with energy efficiency of 20-25% to replace the traditional three stone stoves with energy efficiency of 7-10% could intensify availability of clean and sustainable energy services to the majority of the poor with positive contribution to climate change.