Renewable biofuels are an important part of the new energy mix. When solar is not available (rainy days and at night) or wind, hydropower or geothermal are either not available or cost effective, there still needs to be a reliable and affordable source of renewable energy. The deforestation caused by uncontrolled charcoal use is a major ecological concern across African countries.
At the same time, evidence shows that sustainable forestry can generate commercial biomass fuels, commercial timber, improved rural incomes, AND, increased forest cover. Kenya has had to implement a country wide charcoal ban in order to reduce deforestation. However, the reversal of deforestation is not just about a change in government policy. The reversal of deforestation is more about changing individual behaviour.
The ability to achieve the desired positive outcome in forest cover growth can be increased by initiating a system of benchmarks. Some suggestions include:
These indicators are starting points and by no means comprehensive. The indicators are meant to shift thinking towards measuring consumption versus regeneration at the local level, not just at the national level.
Examples of areas where both utilisation and forest cover have increased:
Making woody biomass truly sustainable (2017)
This is what has happened in the US, where although harvesting increased by 57% over the last 60 years, investment in sustainable forest management has led to a 112% increase in forest growth over the same period. Because of healthy markets for wood products like pellets, the area of forest in the US remained largely the same but the amount of stored carbon in the standing trees increased by 108% over this period.
Chapter 3 Wood energy and economic development
Supported by FAO, the Government of Burkina Faso has introduced a planned and more rational approach to forest resources. This has resulted in resource conservation and protection, as well as a 50 per cent income increase for local people, who are now able to fulfil urban demand for fuelwood and charcoal.
Despite a reliance on wood biomass energy, Finland also has a high forest cover ratio
Finland has ten trees for every person in the world (2016)
Finland: a global leader in forest-based biomass for energy
The majority of the demand for wood fuel in Kenya is driven by urban residents.
When you use charcoal, are you sure there is a tree left standing?
The more we ask these questions and demand evidence of forest cover, the more harvesting practices will be forced to change. We can copy sustainable forestry behaviours.
Before you use wood based fuels, think about how to simultaneously increase the growth of forests...
Here is a video showcasing a Kenyan company, Eco-Charcoal Limited (Kasigau, Kenya) making briquettes from branches so that the trees can continue to grow healthy (regenerate) which means the supply of raw material for briquettes is renewable.