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Experts’ advice on woodfuel governance in Burkina Faso

A woman cooking with both firewood (left) and charcoal (right) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (Photo: J. Arevalo/

A woman cooking with both firewood (left) and charcoal (right) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (Photo: J. Arevalo)

Most people in sub-Saharan Africa depend on wood fuels as their main source of household energy. The same is true in Burkina Faso, where about 80% of the population cooks with charcoal or firewood or both. The last national census of 2006 shows that about 40% of urban households cook with charcoal. Liquified petroleum gas and electricity are simply too expensive for the majority. Charcoal and firewood sellers are found in almost every neighbourhood of the country’s capital, Ouagadougou.

According to women wood vendors in Ouagadougou, wholesalers purchase the firewood in the forests and transport it to the city, where women traders, many of them widows, buy it in small quantities to sell for a small profit. Each truck of firewood holds about 10 ‘lots’ and an entire truckload is worth 300,000 CFA francs, the equivalent of about Euro 457. The women purchase each lot for about 40,000 CFA, or Euro 61.

But they say that felling firewood is an unreliable source of income because stocks are variable, and they have to take on other jobs when supplies run low.

Firewood in small lots for sale in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Photo: Javier Arevalo

Firewood in small bundles (or ‘lots’)  for sale in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Photo: Javier Arevalo

“This business is like a lottery,” says a woman fuelwood seller in Ouagadougou. “We sometimes pay the 40,000 CFA and make a profit of only 2500 CFA [Euro 4], and sometimes we make nothing at all. The business is becoming more difficult because trucks need to go far from the city to fetch firewood, making it more expensive for us to buy.”

This dependence on wood fuel is a major driver of deforestation in the country, second only to agricultural expansion. These are the findings of a new study that looked at the governance, production and use of wood fuels in Burkina Faso, conducted by two projects in the country, the Biocarbon and Rural Development (BIODEV) and Developing Bioenergy Governance.

“This business is like a lottery…sometimes we make nothing at all.” Fuelwood vendor in Ouagadougou

The study was based on an extensive literature review and 13 interviews with local experts from government, NGOs, research institutes, universities, energy projects and a Forest Management Unit established to allow the local community to manage the Cassou Forest in southern Burkina Faso. The interviews addressed three broad themes — state and use of forest resources and trends, wood fuel production and use, and opportunities for sustainable wood fuel management.

Challenges of governance, production and use of wood fuels

According to government sources, Burkina Faso’s current population is 17.3 million, and  growing at an annual rate of 3.3%. As a result, consumption of wood fuel is also set to rise to meet the demand of the rapidly increasing population. This is a major cause for concern as the past decades have seen the depletion of forest resources, along with changing rainfall patterns.

Statistics from the Burkina Faso Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development indicate that the country has some 12.9 million hectares of forests and other wooded areas. This includes 3.9 million hectares of state-owned forest reserves.

Cassou Forest, Burkina Faso. One of the community managed forests in the country. Photo: Susan Onyango/ICRAF

Cassou Forest, Burkina Faso. One of the community-managed forests in the country. Photo: Susan Onyango/ICRAF

Forest Management Units, such as the one in Cassou, are intended to regulate the rotational wood harvesting and collection of non-timber forest products and deadwood from the country’s woodlands. By 2009, more than 450 Forest Management Units had been set up in the country. Nevertheless, wood fuels sourced from managed forests still represent just a small fraction of the fuelwood produced and used in the country.

According to the author of the study, Javier Arevalo of the School of Forest Sciences of the University of Eastern Finland, experts interviewed confirmed the depletion of forest resources in the country. However, they had varied opinions on the extent of deforestation and degradation. They cited a lack of accurate data on forest resources as a crucial problem. The experts agreed that non-controlled wood fuel exploitation is a serious concern.

They stated that in addition to agricultural expansion and wood fuel exploitation, other drivers of deforestation and forest degradation include overgrazing, bush fires, over-harvesting of non-timber forest products and mining. But behind the deforestation, and the agricultural expansion and wood fuel exploitation, however, is the underlying cause of poverty, according to the findings of the study.

Recommendations to halt forest degradation

Firewood being transported from Cassou Forest to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. Wood fuel exploitation is a major driver of deforestation and forest degradation in the country. Photo: Cheikh Mbow/ICRAF

Firewood being transported from Cassou Forest to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. Wood fuel exploitation is a major driver of deforestation and forest degradation in the country. Photo: Cheikh Mbow/ICRAF

Ironically, increased forest cover offers many economic and environmental benefits, which can help combat poverty and improve livelihoods. Better management of forests and trees can translate into greater availability of wood energy for both domestic and small business use.

Further, Arevalo identifies the intensification of agriculture, agroforestry and the promotion of non-timber forest products as key opportunities for preventing forest degradation.

While decentralization of forest and tree governance is seen as an opportunity for sustainable resource management, both the lack of resources and the way these resources are managed need to be urgently addressed.

The study also points out there is a need for consistent messages about what fuels people should be using and what devices they should use for cooking, and calls for the development of a coherent and inclusive long-term energy policy. Such a policy needs to take into account the decentralization process that will lead to an improved, participatory and transparent management of natural resources.

“This study, along with others will be instrumental in the design of wood energy policies based on scientific evidence,” concludes Arevalo. “In line with recommendations from previous studies, these policies need to be flexible and adaptive for them to succeed.”


This research was supported by the Biocarbon and Rural Development project (BIODEV), a project funded by the Finland Ministry of Foreign Affairs and implemented by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Helsinki), as well as by the project, Developing Bioenergy Governance, financed by the University of Finland.

For more information, please contact Javier Arevalo: javier.arevalo@helsinki.fi

Download the full paper here: Arevalo, J. (2016). Improving woodfuel governance in Burkina Faso: The experts׳ assessment. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 57, 1398-1408.



Susan Onyango

Susan Onyango

Susan Onyango is the Global Communications Coordinator at the World Agroforestry Centre and is based at the headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. With over 15 year’s experience in communication, she ensures efficient and effective coordination of communication support to units and regions at ICRAF. She joined ICRAF in 2014 as communications specialist for the Climate Change Unit. Susan holds a MA communication studies and a BA in English. Twitter: @susanonyango

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