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Wood Energy Supply

Resources - Traded vs. non-traded supply - Accessibility of resources - RWEDP activities - Further reading - Other issues in wood energy


Woodfuels consist of woody biomass, i.e. stems, branches, twigs, etc., and saw dust and other residues from logging and wood processing activities, as well as charcoal from these sources. The primary sources of woodfuels are both forest and non-forest land. Forest and other wooded land includes natural forests (including degraded forests), scrub lands, wood and timber plantations and woodlots. Non-forest land here includes agricultural land, agro-forestry systems, wasteland, line trees, home gardens, etc.

The share of non-forest areas in the total woodfuel supply is substantial. The ratio between woodfuels originating from forest and non-forest land is generally not known, but data from eight RWEDP member-countries indicate that about 1/3 of the woodfuels originates from forest land, and about 2/3 from non-forest land. Typically, non-commercial sources of woodfuels are located within a 20 km radius from the end-users, and commercial sources within a 100 km radius from the market.

Secondary sources of woodfuels are residues from logging and wood processing industries, but also recycled wood from construction activities, packing crates, pallets, driftwood, furniture, etc. In some areas, recycled wood supplies as much as 20% of total woodfuels.

Non-industrial tree plantations and private and community woodlots, including scattered or linear tree plantations on privately owned or community managed lands, have contributed significantly to the supply of wood in recent years. In many RWEDP member-countries massive tree planting programmes under social or community forestry development and non-industrial tree plantations of commercial importance have played a great role.

Traded Versus Non-traded Supply

Most woodfuels are collected for free and are a by-product of forest and tree-based agricultural production systems and wood-processing industries. These types of woodfuels may be in the form of:
Fallen leaves, needles, twigs, and branches of standing trees
Left over wood and branches after commercial harvesting of forests
Industrial residues in the form of saw dust and off-cuts
Discarded waste wood from different sources (e.g. old furniture, recovered wood from old construction activities, driftwood).

Nevertheless, a substantial amount is converted and traded through an extensive network of producers, middlemen and traders, so-called woodfuels flows. For many rural people this is the only or additional source of cash income.

Accessibility of Resources

Accessibility can significantly limit the availability of fuelwood in a certain area, even where large wood resources exist in the neighbourhood. For example, people living in areas close to protected natural forests (e.g. designated national parks or wildlife reserves, strict nature reserves or biodiversity conservation areas, and important catchment areas or watersheds), sometimes have no or limited right of access to these resources. Natural physical barriers (due to difficult terrain, steep topography, cliff and big river crossings, etc.) also limit the access to local resources.

In short, the availability and accessibility of wood resources for energy end-uses can be constrained by three types of factors:
Physical factors, such as poor infrastructure, steep slopes, and a lack of transport means, may constrain the possibility to reach resources.
Social and cultural factors (e.g. land-ownership, management, taboos, religion). Protected forests, trees on private land and at religious or other special locations may not be accessible to woodfuel users.
Other end-uses: wood resources may be used for other purposes than energy, e.g. construction, furniture, and fodder, so they are unavailable as fuel.

RWEDP activities

RWEDP published an overview of current practices of woodfuel production in agro-forestry in Asia. Two sub-regional training courses on the integration of woodfuel production into agro-forestry and programs for agriculture and forestry were organised, one for Southeast Asia, and one for South Asia.

Further reading:

"Woodfuel Supply Policies", chapter 6 of Regional Study on Wood Energy Today and Tomorrow in Asia, Field Document 50
Woodfuel productivity of agro-forestry systems in Asia: a review of current knowledge, Field Document 45
Wood Energy Resources, Wood Energy News 11.1
Report of the training workshop on Integrating Woodfuel Production into the Implementation of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Extension Programs in South Asia, RWEDP Report 26
National Training Course for Vietnam on Woodfuel Production and Marketing in Forest, Agriculture and Tree Production Systems, RWEDP Report 27
Integrating Woodfuel Production into Agroforestry Extension Programmes in Southeast Asia, RWEDP Report 21
Biomass/Wood Energy Resources: Commercial Prospects for Wood-Based Technologies, Paper
Agricultural and Forest Residues: Generation, Utilization and Availability, Paper

Other Issues in Wood Energy

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© FAO-RWEDP, 1999