Firewood consumption declines

But demand for the fuel from institutions continues to rise

Fuel: Bhutan burned almost 8,000 truckloads of firewood last year.

Records from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) show homes, schools and temples across the country burned 63,988 cubic metres of firewood.

Of the total timber supply the ministry approves each year, firewood is one of the two items delivered in huge quantities.

While firewood consumption in homes has drastically reduced, the demand from institutions, mainly schools, has grown over the years.

Until this month when electricity finally reached the gewog, the 250 households of Laya mainly depended on fuel wood to cook.

Most Layaps bought electric appliances weeks ago anticipating electricity connections to their homes. By next month all homes will have electricity.

One of the major benefits from this development, villagers said, will be on firewood consumption.

Villagers said fire wood consumption slumped to half the quantity they used to consume before their homes were connected to electricity.

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Trashigang has reported one of the highest firewood supplied in the country in the past two years.

However, Kangpara Gup Chempa Dorji of Trashigang said villagers are cutting down on their consumption.

He said that while earlier each household used more than a truckload of firewood, today the gewog having electricity, and with most villagers using it for cooking, the same amount of firewood is enough for about four households.

Each household in the rural parts of the country is allotted with a standing tree for firewood. Forest officials said most of the time they try to allot dead trees or those about to die.

“Of course, we have seen demand reduced,” a forest resource management division official said.

Records of firewood supply show a declining trend of firewood consumption over the years.

In 2005, 57.71 percent of Bhutanese households depended on fuel wood for cooking.

This has fallen to 33.1 percent or 42,315 households using firewood for cooking in 2012.

The Bhutan Living Standard Survey 2012 found most users were rural at 41,581 households compared to only 734 urban homes.

This is mostly attributed to increasing households getting connected with electricity.

At the end of the ninth Plan, 43,312 households in the country had electricity.  During the 10th Plan alone, 25,822 families were connected to the national power grid.

Between August 2013 and September 2014, electricity replaced other sources of energy in 14,478 more households.

Bhutan Power Corporation connected 40,300 households to the main grid meeting the target by August 2014.

Gewog officials said farm road constructions into the gewogs also helped villagers access other sources of fuel mainly liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) from towns.

Using the smallest biogas plant, it is estimated that 2,000 kilogrammes of firewood will be saved in a year.

The Bhutan Biogas Project official, Dorji Gyaltshen said establishing biogas plants has reduced dependence on firewood over the past five years as the project installed more than 3,000 plants. The project will establish 3,630 plants by the end of this year and according to its estimates about 7.26 million kilogrammes of firewood would be saved in one year.

However, firewood still remains the cheapest fuel for those villagers rearing cattle.

“There has been no substitute for firewood especially for those of us raising cattle, so we’ll continue to use it as long as we have cattle,” Phongmey gup, Pelden, said.

Most households also use firewood to brew ara (alcohol) in rural areas and festivals in temples.

Villagers said the elderly prefer firewood over electric appliances for safety reasons.

However, the firewood burden on the forest is increasing from growing demand from institutions such as schools over the years.

Natural Resources Development Corporation (NRDCL) records show its supply of firewood increased by 1,165 truckloads in the past six years. From 31,176 cubic metres equivalent to 3,896 truckloads in 2010, it increased to 35,826 cubic metres in 2012, and further up to 35,988 cubic metres in 2014.

The corporation supplied 40,490 cubic metres of firewood or 5,061 truckloads, given that each truck carried eight cubic metres of firewood.

For instance, a middle secondary school on an average uses at least 20 truckloads of firewood in a year.

Keeping in check or reducing the demand from institutions would contribute towards maintaining a healthy forest cover in the long run and fulfil the constitutional requirement of 60 percent forest cover for all times to come.

“There is plenty of forest for now, but if we keep cutting there is a threat to that requirement,” Laya mangmi, Tshewang said.

Local leaders said alternatives such as electric mass cooking appliances in such institutions should be explored.

Tshering Palden

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