Tanzania experiences how biomass fuels cause rapid deforestation

May 18, 2012 12:00 AM

by Deogratias Mushi

According to Bariki Kaale, who is Energy and Environmental Specialist based in Dar es Salaam, Biomass fuels in Tanzania accounts for over 90 % of the total energy consumed, of which its supply is unsustainable.
Mr Kaale says that biomass fuels accounts for over 94 % of the total energy used for cooking with no affordable alternative energy sources in the foreseeable future. According to him, dependence on unsustainable biomass fuels for cooking has caused deforestation and degradation of forests leading to environmental degradation and destruction of potential water catchments for hydro-power generation and other water uses.

A report published by the United Nations Office in Dar es Salaam last year showed that deforestation rate is estimated at 412,000 hectares per annum, thus causing the forest cover per capita to decline from 6.3 hectares from 1961 to around 0.7 ha in 2010.
By end of 2010, says the report, Tanzania had a population of 43 mm people, of which 40.4 mm people relied on biomass fuels for cooking while 1.9 mm people used a mixture of LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas), and kerosene, and 700,000 people used electricity.

The estimated allowable annual supply potential of wood products from natural forests in 2011 was around 18 mm cm while the amount of wood harvested annually from the natural forests was over 50 mm cm, said the report. Main field indicators of the prevailing scarcity of biomass fuel are the lack of trees and shrubs in most landscape of Tanzania, women walking long distances and spending many hours per day to fetch firewood.
Other indicators include use of cow dung, sisal leaves, euphorbia (minyaa) and grasses as alternative sources of energy for cooking in the rural areas and rapid increase of charcoal prices in urban areas where a bag of charcoal weighing on average 70 kg is sold at TZS 40,000 in Dar es Salaam.

Communities relying on biomass fuels are expecting the government through the Ministry of Energy and Minerals (MEM) to facilitate funding and implementation of programmes to enhance availability of affordable and reliable energy supplies to all citizens in particular for cooking which is a basic need for survival.
However a recent Ministry of Energy and Minerals report (2011) indicated that main energy development priority over the past 50 years and for the future 50 years will be on electricity. The report also acknowledges that in year 2011 less that 14 % of Tanzanian population had access to electricity, and in the rural areas is less than 2 %.

Nonetheless, more than 98 % of the total energy development budget allocated to Ministry of Energy and Minerals is used for development of the electricity sector with little or no support to biomass fuels. Mr Kaale, says that provision of reliable and affordable electricity is important for industrial and commercial development in Tanzania, hence the ministry's priority to the electricity sector.
One of the cheapest and environmentally friendly methods of generating electricity is through hydro-power. The estimated hydropower potential of Tanzania by early 1970s was 4,700 MW of which by end of 2011 only 561 MW were installed. As the potential is high, one would expect Tanzania to generate sustainable electricity from hydro-power.

Unfortunately due to water shortage, hydro power generation has declined and in 2011 it was around 330 MW and the situation could worsen due to drought. The water shortage is claimed to be an act of God and impact of global climate change. However various scientific studies have concluded that the on-going destruction of water catchments forests and wetlands upstream are the underlying causes of water shortage for power generation and for other water uses.
For example, streams and springs originating from areas with healthy water catchment forest cover in Morogoro region still have permanent water flow while those without forests have dried up. Unsustainable supply of biomass fuels for cooking is therefore causing water shortage for sustainable generation of hydro-electricity.

To solve the problem there is a need to strike a balance for ensuring availability of affordable and reliable energy sources for household cooking and for development issues. The national energy policy of 2003 takes into consideration the need to have affordable and reliable energy supplies in the whole country, enhance the development and utilisation of indigenous and renewable energy sources and technologies, adequately take into account environmental consideration for all energy activities, and increase energy efficiency and conservation in all sectors.
The policy acknowledges that energy is central to all aspects of human welfare and is a pre-requisite for economic growth and poverty reduction.

According to Kaale, the energy balance of Tanzania is dominated by biomass-based fuels that accounts for more than 90 % of primary energy supply, while petroleum products accounts for 8 %, electricity 1.2 % and coal, solar and wind for about 0.8 % of energy used.
Tanzania is endowed with abundant energy resources namely: biomass, electricity, natural gas, coal, solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear (from uranium), tidal and wave power that could meet the national energy demand on sustainable basis if wisely planned and used.

Effective conservation of upstream water catchment forests and wetlands as a component of Energy Development initiatives will ensure availability of sustainable water supply for hydro-electricity generation at low cost, contribute to environmental conservation on win-win scenario and save foreign currency currently used to import fuel for thermal electricity generation.
Recent reports indicate that due to scarcity of water for hydropower generation, Tanzania is using more than TZS 2 bn per day for purchasing fuel to produce electricity. Through participatory community efforts, the amount used per day to purchase fuel for thermal electricity generation of 200 MW could be sufficient to conserve most of the potential water catchments forests and wetlands in Tanzania in addition to providing income generation opportunities to rural communities, says Kaale.

Based on Tanzania historical socio-economic and energy development experiences, the most realistic energy development path is to start with accessible and affordable energy sources that will create an enabling environment to the majority of the poor to attain upward fuel switch from traditional to commercial energy sources with sound environmental conservation.
For success, future funding and implementation of energy projects have to change from business as usual to strategic result based planning with quantifiable monitoring indicators on the proportion of the population benefiting from the activity, value for money and contribution to environmental conservation of which biomass fuel is a good starting point.

For example, a study entitled: "Tanzania: Low Electricity Tariffs for the Rich" concluded that Tanesco is providing electricity at below recurrent cost and its losses are mainly covered from the Government's budget. Main beneficiaries of the government budget subsidy to Tanesco are businesses that consume about 50 % of total electricity supply and households that consume the remaining 50 %.
Of the household component, high and middle income households accounts for 85 % of electricity used and the poorest households uses less that 6 % of the supplied electricity.

Wealthy families use more electricity as they possess more electric apparatus like air conditioners, electric cookers, water pumps TVs in each bed room, deep freezers etc. As a result, the wealthiest 20 % of the population consumes 62 % of all household electricity, while the poorest 20 % of the population uses about 2 % of all household electricity.
It is estimated that of the total electricity subsidy provided by Government to Tanesco, about 73 % accrues to wealthy households while 36 % of the total population living below the poverty line receive approximately 15 % of the subsidy. Concerted and strategic planning efforts are therefore required to intensify use of electricity by the low income households.

Besides MEM, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT) in particular the Forestry and Beekeeping Division is expected to facilitate sustainable management and efficient utilisation of biomass fuels.
However firewood and charcoal are considered as minor forest products in the forestry sector. Major forest products are sawn timber, pulpwood and industrial poles that account for around 3 % of the total wood products consumed in the country. As a result, most of the funds allocated to the forestry sector are directed to establishment of industrial plantations for timber production.

MNRT has initiated a Participatory Forest Management scheme (PFM) to assist villagers and the private sector to plant trees and conservation forest for production of biomass fuels. However, as forestry is not one of the priority development sectors, implementation of the PFM programme is experiencing severe financial constraints. As a result Tanzania has no defined energy plantations to enhance sustainable supply of firewood and charcoal.
As emphasised by the National Energy Policy of 2003 -- that energy is central to all aspects of human welfare and is a pre-requisite for economic growth and poverty reduction -- one would expect regional and district councils to have defined baseline data on their energy supply and demand with concrete policies and strategies to ensure availability of affordable and sustainable energy services to all citizens.

However, most regional and district councils have no defined energy portfolio in their organisational chart. Also they lack policies, strategies and budget line for implementing energy programmes.
Nonetheless almost all districts have Tanesco district managers with funds for electricity development from the national basket although electricity accounts for around 1 % of total energy consumed in most districts.

Due to low knowledge on Tanzania energy dynamics, some policy makers are promising rural communities that they will soon be provided with modern energy sources like electricity and LPG for cooking without taking into account availability, reliability and affordability factors. Electrifying a village without financial ability of villagers to pay for electricity tariffs could be unwise utilisation of scarce resources.
For example, Kasulu town was provided with free electricity generator and distribution lines to most households. The community was requested through cooperative system to cover costs of fuel and operator. Unfortunately the community failed to purchase fuel for the generator due to poverty.

At national level, it is estimated that over 13 mm people (34 %) are living below the basic poverty line of approximately 40 US dollar-cents per day and around 38 mm people (88.5 %) fall below the income poverty line of $ 1.25 per day. One target was to reduce proportion on rural population depending on biomass energy for cooking from 90 % in 2003 to 80 % in 2010.
However, by end of 2010 the proportion of rural population depending on biomass fuels for cooking and with no affordable alternatives at national level was over 99 %. The number of people in poverty (living on less than TZS 500 per person per day) increased from 11.6 mm in 2001 to 12.9 mm in 2007, an increase of 1.3 mm in the number of poor who are unable to afford modern energy services -- hence inclined to use non-renewable biomass fuels as their final fall back survival option.

A study conducted by the Rural Energy Agency (REA) in October 2011 concluded that 98.3 % of the total population surveyed relied on biomass-based fuels (firewood, charcoal and farm residues) for cooking and they have little opportunities for upward fuel switch to modern energy sources due to low income. Less that 0.2 % of the surveyed population are using electricity or LPG for cooking.
Estimates shows that at least 60,000 MW of electricity would be required to replace biomass-based fuels currently used for cooking. The prevailing management structure described above, make biomass fuels -- an orphan sector with no defined specific ministry taking a lead role to enhance its sustainable supply and efficient utilisation. Efforts should be made to nominate the lead ministry that will coordinate contributions of other relevant stakeholders.

The target of ensuring affordable and sustainable energy supply to all citizens will be achieved if all Tanzanians will actively participate in tree growing and share field experiences while the government continues to provide catalytic institutional capacity building for implementing integrated energy programmes.

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