IT is undeniable fact that wood energy that covers firewood and charcoal is the main source of energy for over 95 per cent of the Tanzanian population for cooking with no affordable alternative sources of energy in the foreseeable future.
Energy for cooking is a basic need for survival, as such when a family experiences acute shortage of energy for cooking is an indication of lowering of living standards and poverty.
The contribution of different energy sources in percentage to the total energy consumed in a country is expressed as national energy balance. Main sources of energy for the Tanzania energy balance are: wood energy 91 per cent, petroleum products 7 per cent and electricity 2 per cent.
Unfortunately, the Tanzania national energy balance has remained unchanged for over five decades mainly due to unintegrated national energy planning. Wood energy is still the main source of energy in Tanzania in particular for household cooking. However due to prevailing wood energy scarcity, use of low quality biomass fuels is increasing.
Comparison of wood energy supply and consumption for year 1961 and year 2012 shows that Tanzania has progressively moved from a country with abundant forest resources and surplus wood energy to a country devoid of tree cover in most of its landscape and with severe shortage of wood energy to meet demand on sustainable basis.
As a result of deforestation, the country is often experiencing environmental disasters like scarcity of water for electricity generation and for human consumption, floods, drought, cyclones and declining agriculture productivity per unit area due to soil erosion.
People think the disasters are an act of God - hence inclined to pray for good weather. However, various scientific evidences have shown that many of the prevailing environmental disasters are a result of unsustainable utilization of natural resources. On the other hand, some policy makers and planners are claiming that most of the environmental disasters in Tanzania are a result of global climate change effects, of which the country has little powers to control.
It is true that climate change is taking place - and affecting all people globally, however intensity of climate change effects is much influenced by prevailing local environmental status of an area.
For example, within the same village, during a sunny hot day, people who will hold a meeting under direct sunshine will fill the effects of high temperature, while those who will hold a meeting under a shade of trees with densely closed crowns will have favourable climate with lower temperatures but within the same locality.
In year 2012 total forest area in Tanzania based on data from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism were 47 million ha (covering forests and wildlife areas). However production forests where harvesting can be conducted legally total 21 million hectares.
Recent results from NAFORMA (2013) indicated that both the protection and production of forests are degraded and in many places what used to be forests has been degraded to bushland and grass land, good examples has been Kazimzumbwe, Pugu and Ruvu Forest reserves in the Coast region.
Data on wood standing volume and Mean Annual Increment (MAI) for 1961 and 2012 are used to illustrate the change in wood standing volume per ha and annual wood consumption. In 1961 the estimated total standing wood volume per ha of productive forest was 180 m3 and Mean Annual Increment (MAI) per ha was 5 m3.
However due to deforestation and degradation of forests according to NAFORMA results, by 2012 the total standing volume is around 50m3/ha and the MAI is less than 2m3/ha. The declining forest productivity per unit area and rapidly increasing wood demand due to population growth are factors contributing to deforestation and unsustainable supply of wood energy in Tanzania.
In 1961 Tanzania had a population of 7 million people with total annual wood consumption of 14 million m3 while allowable wood harvesting (total supply based on MAI) were 105 million m3 giving a surplus of 91 million m3. However in 2012 Tanzania mainland had a population of 43,625,354 people with estimated total annual wood consumption of 87.2 million m3.
However allowable wood harvesting were 46 million m3 hence creating a wood deficit of 41.2 million m3 from the production forests. To meet the wood demand deficit harvesting is taking place in protection forests that are legally in-accessible for wood harvesting as affected people with wood energy scarcity struggle for survival. The continuing practice of harvesting wood products in excess of the total mean annual increment is causing pronounced deforestation in Tanzania turning the country that used to be rich with forests to degraded grassland.
The main wood energy products consumed in Tanzania is firewood that is mainly consumed in rural areas and charcoal that is consumed in peri-urban and urban areas. In 2012, firewood consumption for household activities were around 32,719,016 m3 that were obtained through clear-felling of an equivalent of 654,380 ha of forests at the assumption of standing volume of 50m3/ha.
Firewood stoves commonly used in the rural areas have efficiency of around 10%. Wide use of improved firewood stoves with efficiency of around 25% that are encouraged by various Development partners like UNDP, FAO, Finland, Norway, The Netherlands (SNV), Germany (GTZ), Switzerland, the World Bank and NGOs like WWF, Care International, TaTEDO, TFCG and TASONAB, to cite but a few could reduce firewood consumption from 32,719,016 m3 to 13,087,606 m3 that could save the clearing of 392,628 ha of woodlands.
Firewood is now a commercial commodity in almost all villages of Tanzania mainland. Based on the value chain a kg of firewood is sold at around TZS 200. (At Mlimani city shopping centre a kg of firewood was sold at TZS 1,000). The monetary value of the firewood consumed in Tanzania for the household sector mainly for cooking is around US$ 4.5 billion. Firewood is also used for progressing agricultural crops, brick burning, fish smoking, pottery, by hotels, government and private institutions.
Charcoal: By end of 2012, the population consuming charcoal in Tanzania mainland was 10,906,339 people mainly in urban and peri-urban areas as indicated earlier. Average charcoal production per capita is around 180 kg. In 2012 Tanzania consumed 1,963,141 tonnes of charcoal, equivalent to 32,719,017 bags of charcoal weighing around 60 kg. Charcoal production in Tanzania is in the informal sector.
Most producers consider wood raw material for charcoal production as a free commodity as such they have little incentives to adopt improved charcoal production technologies - that are available and known but not used. The total of 1,963,141 tonnes of charcoal produced in 2012 was obtained through harvesting of an equivalent of 327,190 ha of forest (wood land). Based on the supply chain, the value of the charcoal consumed in 2012 (at an average price of US$ 317 per tonne ) was US$ 621,661,323.
The national average price per bag of charcoal (60) is around TZS 30,000 however in DSM is TZS 45,000. The charcoal industry created 377,411 employment opportunities, mainly in the rural areas, of which 136,329 were on charcoal production in the field, 50,227 were involved in transporting the charcoal, 38,171 were involved in selling charcoal mainly on bulky basis and 152,684 were involved in retail sale of charcoal -- mainly women.
The employment security of the 377,411 people currently involved in the charcoal sector is in danger if concerted efforts to ensure sustainable supply of wood raw material for charcoal production will not be enforced by the government. Strategies to sustain charcoal production, some of which are on-going but need to be scaled up include: Improved management of Forest reserves - currently Tanzania Forest Service has an average of one forest worker per 20,000 ha of forest. Central government Forest reserves are over 600, however less than 20 of the FRs have a manager.
Studies conducted in Mwanza region by UNDP and ESAURP (2013) have shown that at least one worker is required to protect and manage 100 ha of the Government Forest reserves. Effective management of the 21 million ha of productive forests could therefore provide employment opportunity to an additional 210,000 people in the charcoal value chain.
Sustainable management of production forests will provide multiplier development impacts to all sectors as such concerted efforts should be made by ministries responsible for forestry, energy, finance, agriculture, environment, livestock, water, infrastructure, home affairs, local government, gender and youth in ensuring the forests are effectively conserved and managed.
Other stakeholders will include development partners in funding and provision of training support, NGOs in awareness creation and the local community in conserving forest resources surrounding them through the Community Based Forest Management principles.
Other initiatives include, farm land tree planting, establishment of village government forest reserves and woodlots, establishment of large scale wood energy plantations, improve efficiency of charcoal production, construction and use of improved charcoal and firewood stoves.
The estimated value of the wood energy consumed in Tanzania in 2012 was around US$ 5.2 billion, providing 377,411 employment opportunities and cooking energy to over 42.7 million people with no affordable and reliable energy alternatives.
In spite of the indicated above socio-economic values, wood energy in Tanzania is regarded by majority of policy makers and planners as an inferior and traditional energy source that should be replaced by modern energy sources. Consumption of wood energy is attributed with environmental degradation, but this is due to unsustainable consumption as with sustainable consumption wood energy has neutral impact to climate change.
Wood is a renewable natural resource and the most versatile source of modern energy in the world with various additional multiple uses like climate amelioration, water conservation, food production and biodiversity conservation all of which are important for sustainable green development. For example, use of forest logging and sawmill residues in Saohill - Iringa are currently used for generation of electricity of around 45 MW.
The Rural Energy Agency (REA) UNIDO, USAID, Sisal and sugar companies are supporting initiatives of using agricultural residues from sugar canes, sisal, coconuts, maize cobs cotton oil and wood briquettes for generating electricity in the rural areas hence reducing costs of grid extension to reach remote areas.
CARMATEC in collaboration with various development partners are promoting construction and use of biogas digester using biomass resources as feed stocks. History has proved that the proposed and highly financed upward fuel switch from wood fuel to other commercial energy sources like electricity, LPG and kerosene for cooking in Tanzania has failed.
What is actually taking place in the household sector is down ward switch in the energy ladder from use of quality wood energy sources to increasing use of low quality biomass fuels like sisal leaves, euphorbia (minyaa) farm residues, cow dung and even grasses. Data shows that over 98% of total development budget for energy initiatives in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral is allocated to promotion of electricity that has been MEM energy development priority for the past 50 years and for the next 50 years after independence.
Current installed electricity generation in Tanzania is below 2,000 MW. However, if all Tanzanians will be inclined to use electricity for cooking due to unavailability of wood energy at least 60,000 to 70,000 MW of electricity will be required. Even if the power could be available, the costs for distributing the electricity to individual households will be high and not affordable to the majority of the target community.
MKUKUTA 1 had an intention of reducing the proportion of people using wood energy from 90% to 80%. However by the end of MKUKUTA one, the proportion of people relying on wood energy as their main source of energy and with no viable affordable alternatives had increased to 98%.
In terms of funding and allocation of manpower, to date (2013) wood energy still maintains the lowest development priority in the Ministry of Energy and Minerals and even in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism that are expected to be lead ministries for wood energy.
Unsustainable wood energy consumption is resulting to environmental degradation and destruction of nature. Proven experience has shown that nature has no mercy, people will be treated equally depending on their level of destruction. Also if a traveller takes a wrong course he/she will not reach the desired destination unless he/she discovers the error and take the right direction.
In terms of meeting energy needs for the majority of the population Tanzania needs to examine its energy development strategies and priorities and based on best field lessons learnt to initiate taking the right direction that should include changing the negative altitude on wood energy and giving high priority on ongoing initiatives to enhance sustainable supply of biomass energy to the majority of the community who have no affordable and reliable energy alternatives.
The writer is an Energy and Environmental Specialist based in Dar es Salaam.