Valuing Fuelwood Resources Using a Site Choice Model of Fuelwood Collection

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  • Wood is the primary source of household energy for many African countries. Fuelwood is used for cooking meals, heating homes (as the season requires), making charcoal, etc. Much of the existing literature concerning fuelwood is broad in scope and does not provide insights into the microeconomic relationships that have evolved with fuelwood shortages. For instance, Dewees (1989) suggests that painfuly little is known about even the role of urban fuelwood markets in the overall fuelwood scarcity situation. Much of the literature that exists seems to be motivated by a concern over the rate of deforestation that is occurring in many parts of the world. Deforestation has implications for the household which is dependent on wood as well ecologically dimensions for the landscape. In recognition of the importance of fuelwood as a source of energy, planning tools such as energy gap models have been developed. The focus of the energy gap models has been on projecting demand and supply of wood where massive energy deficits are predicted. Leach and Means (1988, pp. 5-9) discuss how these gap models consider aggregate current and future energy consumption compared with the aggregate supply of fuelwood (stock of standing fuelwood and future growth). The policy solutions that fall out of this line of reasoning are expressed by Muslow et al (1988, p. 11). \"The fuelwood trap, into which governments and donor agencies fall, ...[in which they] assume that they have identified an obvious problem and consequently there has to be a simple solution. Unfortunately, this is not the case.\" The problem with these models is that the spatial nature of the problem is ignored. Fuelwood shortages can be very local in nature and thus large scale projects may not address local needs. Researchers such as Munslow et al (1988), Du Toit et al (1985), and the FAO (1978, 1991) suggest that deforestation is more closely associated with clearing land for agriculture and the cutting of green wood for the production of charcoal than with the collection of fuelwood by local people. It must be recognized that in some areas, potential fuelwood shortages have been alleviated temporarily by land clearing activities that produce dry wood. Clearing land allows for a short term increase in aggregate agricultural production, but the loss of woody biomass has implications for maintaining soil quality and watershed management. The loss of this biomass has negative implications for longer term agricultural productivity. The problem of energy use as an economic decision is attracting the attention of applied economists. The standard approach is to extend the agricultural household production model to incorporate domestic fuel decisions. A small group of researchers have adapted this approach to consider problems such as the adoption of improved stoves [Amacher, et al (1992)], the choice between agricultural residues and fuelwood for domestic use [Amacher, et al (1993)] and the decision to purchase or collect fuelwood [Amacher et al (1996)]. Issues surrounding deforestation have been the primary motivation for this literature. Understanding domestic energy choice is important not only for issues of deforestation in the developing world but as researchers and policy makers are beginning to realize, for the global environment. The prospects of global warming and the potential importance of carbon sequestration suggests that the economics of fuelwood collection needs to be better understood. This paper follows the same tradition of modeling as the Amacher et al papers in that the site choice (where to collect wood) is seen as part of the household resource allocation decision. A micro approach is useful for isolating the nature of the trade-offs occurring in the household production process with respect to fuel choices. For rural areas in north-eastern ZImbabwe, where the data for this study were collected, energy sources such as bottled gas and electricity for domestic use are not available outside urban areas. SInce the sale of fuelwood is largely prohibited on community held land, households must collect their own fuelwood. Here is where the significant difference lies between this paper and Amacher et al: the decision to collect wood becomes a discrete choice problem concerning whether or not to collect wood at a particular site if the sale of wood is prohibited. This requires a very different approach to modeling the fuelwood collection decision. In this case, a travel cost approach embedded in the household production process is used to model the site choice problem. The various attributes of the site as well as the measure of effort to get to each site are likely to be important factors in the site choice. If the opportunity costs of time are not well described by wage rates due to the thinness of the labour market, the next best alternative may be to use a measure of effort such as time, difficulty ratings or an estimate of calorie experiments. If calories are used in the estimation of the models of choice, then calories provide an alternative means of expressing the welfare losses that the household or community may experience due to closure of the site.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 International