(c) EUEI PDF Ina de Visser
© EUEI PDF Ina de Visser
 (c) GIZ Andreas Michel
© GIZ Andreas Michel

Biomass Sector Planning for Humanitarian Settings

December 9, 2014

Wood, charcoal, dung and other solid biomass remain the main fuel for cooking in most developing countries. Currently 2.6 billion people worldwide depend on open fires to cook their meals, and wood and charcoal account for 90% of total primary energy consumption in developing countries of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. For the 51.2 million displaced people affected by conflict, war or natural disaster, lack of access to biomass is life-threatening. Refugee camps and other crisis-affected communities need daily access to sufficient energy for cooking, heating and lighting to satisfy basic needs.

Most food provided by humanitarian agencies must be cooked before consuming, but fuel and improved cookstoves are rarely provided. Households will primarily use traditional, smoky open fires.  These methods often lead to health problems such as respiratory disease and burn injuries. Additionally, women and children are usually in charge of searching for and collecting firewood to cook, leading to safety and health risks due to dehydration, malnutrition, respiratory illnesses and physical and sexual attacks. Improved biomass technologies and policies are needed to increase fuel efficiency and improve management and safety of biomass fuel.

Due to the negative perception of biomass as it relates to air pollution, deforestation, poverty and health problems, policy makers tend to steer strategies towards the replacement of biomass by other fuels (mainly LPG and electricity). Nevertheless, despite the clear focus on alternatives to biomass energy, it is unlikely that biomass use will decrease in absolute terms over the coming decades, as alternative fuels are generally less affordable and available, especially in the case of humanitarian settings.

In order to reduce and prevent safety and health risks for crisis-affected populations, it is essential that governments and humanitarian energy practitioners are aware of the importance of biomass for energy provision, the challenges of biomass sector governance, and the benefits of well-managed biomass resources.

Managing and regulating the biomass sector is characterised by several challenges. The inter-sectoral nature of biomass energy is linked to forestry, rural development, industry and agriculture and so requires a cross-sectoral approach, which can ultimately cause conflicts of interests in the design of regulatory framework. Furthermore, biomass energy tends to be concentrated in rural areas, where it provides income and fuel to households. This means that regulation and its enforcement are often weak and that the biomass sector is managed in an informal and sometimes even illegal way. However, if used efficiently and obtained from well-managed sources, biomass can be an inexpensive, reliable and clean source of energy.

Role of the Biomass Energy Sector Planning Guide

With the aim to improve the governing structures in biomass energy and ensuring its sustainable use, the EU Energy Initiative – Partnership Dialogue Facility (EUEI PDF) and GIZ’s Poverty-oriented Basic Energy Services (HERA) published the Biomass Energy Sector Planning Guide, addressed to stakeholders in government institutions, NGOs and donors active in energy sector. The objective of the strategy will be to embed the topic at the political level and ensure coherence among policies related to biomass cultivation and use. The Guide takes a step-by-step approach in developing a biomass energy strategy on the political level, involving stakeholders in energy, forestry, land rights, environment, rural development and agriculture as well as cross-sectorial themes such as gender, health and education. The Guide puts legislative, regulatory and fiscal measures in the spotlight and proposes a structured methodology to develop a coordinated and practical biomass energy strategy.

Case Studies

Over the past few years, EUEI PDF has supported biomass strategy development in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. These activities demonstrated different biomass energy practices even within the same geographical region and thus indicate the need for a tailored intervention.

Ethiopia is highly dependent on firewood, charcoal, crop residues and animal dung to fulfil its energy needs. About 81% of Ethiopian households use firewood for cooking. The growing demand for biomass, due to population growth together with inefficient use and unsustainable management of forest resources, as well as the increased demand for agricultural land and crops has resulted in deforestation and reduced availability wood fuels. With the Biomass Energy Sector Planning Guide, the Ethiopian Government articulated a clear long-term vision for biomass energy and the EUEI-PDF helped to formulate a comprehensive energy strategy and action plan, which should support the Ethiopian Ministry of Energy, Irrigation and Water, in close cooperation with other relevant governmental institutions, to properly manage the country’s biomass energy resources.

In Mozambique, population growth, urbanisation and agricultural expansion put pressure on its biomass resource base, corresponding to more than 50% of the land area. The use of alternative energy sources for cooking and heating (such as electricity and LPG) requires large investments which are long-term and cannot adequately address current shortages. Mozambique’s biomass energy strategy was designed to improve the sustainability of the fuel supply, end-user efficiencies and to promote affordable modern alternatives for cooking fuel such as briquettes or bioethanol.

High urbanisation rates in Sierra Leone resulted in an increased use of inefficiently produced charcoal, leading to rapid depletion of forest resources. Additionally, indoor air pollution caused by inefficient use of biomass contributes to respiratory diseases, mainly among children and women. At the same time, commercial wood fuel production earns livelihoods for thousands of rural families. The Ministry of Energy developed a household cooking energy plan to improve management and governance of the wood fuel supply and efficiency in biomass consumption.

Tanzania faces high prices and scarcity of alternatives to traditional biomass, such as kerosene, electricity, biogas, biomass briquettes and LPG. Similar to Sierra Leone; commercial biomass energy is the largest source of cash income in rural Tanzania. A EUEI-PDF study concluded that the current biomass energy demand and supply in Tanzania is unsustainable. The biomass strategy therefore focuses on the coordination of local government policies with the national land use planning; on increasing the efficiency in the biomass energy production and on commercial access to alternatives.

Although primarily based on African experiences, the Guide’s methodology can be applied in all countries where biomass is used as the main fuel. Encouraging efficient and clean use of biomass may be a more cost-effective and culturally acceptable solution to reducing health risks than aiming for substitution with other fuels that may be imported, more expensive or less familiar.

The Guide can be downloaded in English at our website. The publication of a French version is being prepared. For more information on the Guide, please, do not hesitate to contact us at info@euei-pdf.org