Woodfuel for urban markets in the Congo Basin: a livelihoods perspective on value chains, poverty reduction and formalization of the wood energy sector

Woodfuel in developing countries is often perceived as a ‘traditional’ and undesirable energy source, while others argue that it could be considered a ‘modern’ energy source, because of its renewable character and its potential for climate change mitigation. The sector employs many producers and traders, but the benefits to livelihoods of those involved are largely unknown because of the sector’s informal character. This knowledge is relevant especially considering both the growing commercial woodfuel sector in Sub-Saharan Africa and the increasing urban demand. This PhD research project at FNP, in collaboration with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), analyses the contribution of commercial woodfuel production to livelihoods and poverty reduction in the Congo Basin. Research findings indicate that woodfuel revenues, especially those of charcoal production, substantially contribute to household income. The income supports basic needs and investments in other livelihood activities, which helps to reduce poverty. Overall income of producers, however, remains low and the poorest benefit least. Future plans for guaranteeing energy supply and enabling development need to consider the potential that woodfuel markets offer to poverty reduction. Developing formal institutions is often considered as a way of managing woodfuel markets more sustainably. However, formalization can have adverse effects for producers when this hinders their access to the resource or to markets. An assessment of the link between the degree of formalization and livelihood outcomes show that informal rules dominate woodfuel markets in Central Africa and that these offer few incentives to produce woodfuel sustainably. There are many vested interests in this informal system with producers and rent-seeking actors along the chain and few motivations or disincentives to change. Coherence with energy policies, devoting responsibilities of woodfuel management to local levels, reinvesting taxes in social and environmental aims and monitoring woodfuel trade with incentives for sustainably produced charcoal could contribute to enabling formalization mechanisms.

Publications from this research project are available here.