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J Environ Manage. 2007 Jun;83(4):416-26. Epub 2006 Aug 23.

Changes in fuelwood use and selection following electrification in the Bushbuckridge lowveld, South Africa.

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Department of Environmental Science, Rhodes University, Grahamstown 6140, South Africa.


Fuelwood is the primary energy source for domestic purposes throughout the developing world, in both urban and rural environments. Due to the detrimental impacts of biomass use on human and environmental health, many governments have sought to reduce its use through provision of potentially cleaner energies, of which electricity is the dominant form. Yet there are surprisingly few studies of changes in fuelwood use following the introduction of electricity, especially in rural areas of Africa. This paper reports on a longitudinal study of fuelwood use, using identical approaches, in five rural villages in the Bushbuckridge region of South Africa, spanning the period over which electricity became widely available. Almost a decade after the introduction of electricity, over 90% of households still used fuelwood for thermal purposes, especially cooking, and the mean household consumption rates over the 11-year period had not changed, even with a policy of 6 kWh per month of free electricity. The proportion of households purchasing fuelwood had increased, probably in response to a number of factors, including (i) increased fuelwood scarcity in the local environment as reflected by increased fuelwood collection times, changes in fuelwood species preferences, and ranking of scarcity by local collectors, and (ii) increases in the price of fuelwood well below that of other fuels and the prevailing inflation rate. Overall, there was an increase in the number of species harvested over the 11-year period. The implications of these findings for rural energy provision are discussed.

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