As you know, the impact of fuelwood collection on forests has been controversial. Experts also increasingly recognize fuelwood’s role as a source of income for poor rural families. The following summary presents some of the main results of a recent study on this topic in Central and South Cameroon by Adrienne Demenou, sponsored by CIFOR and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
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Two hundred and fifty rural households from nine villages were surveyed in 1996. The villages were divided into three ’blocks’: 1) a high population denisty peri-urban block on the outskirts of Yaounde, the capital city; 2) a medium population density block with moderate access to markets around Mbalmayo, and 3) a more isolated low population density block in the south around Ebalowa.
The majority of fuelwood collected in these villages comes from fields that are being cleared for crop production. The exact percentage varies from 43 to 76%, depending on the village. Natural forests that are not being cleared for other purposes only provide between 8% and 31% of the fuelwood, depending on the village. Moreover, the proportion of fuelwood coming from these forests has declined over the last ten years. This decline is apparently due to increasing scarcity of natural forests in the peri-urban areas and falling demand for fuelwood in more peripheral locations. The remaining fuelwood comes from home garden areas and perennial crop plantations.
Rural household fuelwood consumption is insufficient in all the villages to significantly affect local forests. It ranges from 3 to 65 cubic meters per family, with the highest consumption by families that use fuelwood to distill alcoholic beverages.
Most fuelwood sold comes from the peri-urban areas around Yaounde, where the income obtained from this activity has increased very rapidly over the last ten years (between 14% and 30% per year). In two of the five villages surveyed in the peri-urban block fuelwood sales provide over 30% of total revenues. In these villages some evidence indicates that specialized fuelwood collection does put additional pressure on local forests.
The author concludes that fuelwood collection will generally only place significant pressure on humid forests in peri-urban areas, and even then only under certain circumstances. Solutions for the problem, where it exists, most be on a case by case basis.