Fuel Substitution & Traditional Fuel Supply - background

Many African countries rely heavily on biomass fuels.  Although most people prefer modern commercial energy sources (e.g. kerosene, gas & electricity), traditional fuels such as charcoal, firewood and dung are often their only option.   

In the three countries that are the focus of this project - Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda - the supply and distribution of firewood and charcoal is undertaken by a range of actors, from charcoal producers, to transporters and distributors, to market vendors and door-to-door sellers of fuel.

The negative aspects associated with the use of traditional fuels include:

  health impacts of indoor pollution, e.g. conjunctivitis, respiratory illness
  environmental degradation
  injuries & hazards from collecting & carrying heavy loads of fuelwood

These three countries have seen policies to discourage the use of traditional fuels, and are promoting the use of modern fuels such as kerosene, LPG and electricity.  Improved stove programmes have also been implemented with varying levels of success - visit ESD's Poverty Stoves web site.

What is 'Fuel Substitution'?

In the context of this project, fuel substitution means moving away from the traditional use of biomass fuels to:

- more efficient use of biomass (i.e. by means of efficient end use appliances and technologies such as improved stoves)

- use of modern fuels or energy sources
(e.g. kerosene, LPG, electricity, solar PV, etc)

Here, fuel substitution encompasses both 'fuel switching' and 'inter-fuel substitution'

Fuel switching:
termination of the use of one type of fuel and uptake of another source of energy in its place.

Inter-fuel substitution: introduction of new energy sources that do not replace, but supplement, existing fuel types. Even when new sources of fuel are introduced, traditional fuels continue to be important. This is particularly true for those countries where cooking food is not just a daily chore but can also bear elements of cultural identity (e.g. the coffee ceremony in Ethiopia which requires charcoal, and steaming matooke in Uganda which needs woodfuelled fire for many hours).

Links to related websites

The Shell Foundation
Livelihoods Connect
ITDG Intermediate Technology Development Group and ITDG Publishing
HEDON Household Energy Network Organisation
DFID Department for International Development
id21 Development Research
Improved Household Stoves and Poverty Reduction
International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy
Sparknet - knowledge network focusing on energy for low-income households in Southern and East Africa

For more information on this project, contact Ottavia Mazzoni / Hannah Isaac

Traditional Fuel Suppliers
Transportation - motorised and non-motorised

Sales of wood and charcoal

Fuel substitution and associated measures, such as the banning of charcoal production, has an impact on the supply and demand for traditional fuels and, in turn, is also likely to affect the livelihoods of the many actors involved in the supply and distribution of such fuel.

In order to assess the extent of the livelihood impacts, this project is using a range of research tools, from tallies and questionnaires right down to individual case studies, that will be analysed using a Sustainable Livelihoods framework. This framework, developed by DFID, enables a much wider range of poverty and livelihood indicators to be taken into account than those used in traditional poverty analysis.

 Gender and fuel supply

Women carrying fuelwood in Nairobi: the heavy loads carried by women often weigh around 40-50kg - nearly as much as their own body weights.

  • As the group most active in gathering and carrying traditional fuel, women are most likely to suffer the ill effects of this activity, which include frequent falls, bone fractures, rheumatism and miscarriages,

  • Violence, including rape, is a hazard faced by women in the collection of fuel.

  • As the main group responsible for domestic duties, women are more likely to suffer the illness caused by smoke-related indoor air pollution.

  • Women are more vulnerable to loss of income, for example when domestic life requires them to take care of sick family members, etc.

  • Women have fewer negotiating powers with suppliers; licencing officials, etc.

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