Household Energy Use in Rwanda

In 2010, Rwanda’s Director of Forestry Field Programmes in the nation’s National Forestry Authority warned of a real threat of desertification, with the revelation that in that year, only 533,000 hectares or 20 per cent of the country was covered by forests (FAO 2011). In response, the government embarked on a concerted policy effort aimed at reforestation. Seventy-six per cent of Rwanda’s rural land (2,467,000 ha) is used for agricultural purposes, specifically for crops and animal production, while 16 per cent is forested. Currently, 1.6 per cent of Rwanda’s rural land mass is designated as ‘other land’, and is neither used for agricultural purposes nor classified as a forested area, but includes barren, built-up, and wooded land (World Bank2012:7). Since firewood and charcoal usage record highest in the rural areas of Rwanda, ways were sought to introduce agricultural rural communities to alternative clean energy sources, with emphasis on biogas that runs on cow dung (FAO 2011).

As far as energy sources are concerned, biomass, including charcoal, dominates other forms of energy in Rwanda. Down from 90-95 per cent in previous years, it is estimated that approximately 85 per cent of Rwandans depend on biomass for use in household cooking. The use of energy sources such as liquid petroleum gas or kerosene is insignificant. Over the past 15 years, energy demand in Rwanda has grown at the same rate as population growth, fast-paced urban expansion, and economic activities (FAO 2011). The increasing cost of petrol, low access to electricity, and the significant growth of industries have combined to place pressure on fuelwood as a reliable and inexpensive source of energy for most households in Rwanda. In the rural and urban areas, all but the wealthiest 5 per cent of households rely on firewood and/or charcoal for household cooking. Wood is sometimes used directly as fuel or converted into charcoal for use in cooking (FAO 2011). About 6 per cent of households use crop residues and peat to cook with, especially in rural areas (FAO 2011).

Annually, total fuelwood consumption in Rwanda is at 2.8 million tonnes, while it is estimated that charcoal, when converted into wood usage, accounts for up to 50 per cent of total wood-fuel consumption in the country (World Bank 2012). In all, Rwanda loses up to 35 per cent of wood used in charcoalmaking due to the conversion process (GTZ 2009).

Economically, fuelwood usage is also costly for the average Rwandan household. On average, households spend between 10-15 per cent of their monthly incomes on purchasing fuelwood and charcoal (FAO 2011). In 1991, the average consumption of fuelwood and charcoal in Rwanda was 0.33 kg per person per day (World Bank 1991); by 2000, the figure had risen to 1.93 kg per person per day, with an annual per capita consumption of more than 1m3 of wood for the entire population (GTZ 2009). The increase is directly proportional to growth in population. In 1991, Rwanda’s population stood at

7.1 million while in 2002, the figure was 8.1 (NISR2016). Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that in Rwanda, woodfuel consumption is estimated at 2.7 million t/year, out of which the urban capital accounts for an annual charcoal consumption of 120,000 t, equivalent to 1.2 million m3 or 850,000 t of wood (FAO 2011). Rwanda’s Ministry of Natural Resources projects that between 2009 and 2020, ‘the consumption of charcoal and fuelwood in Kigali [Rwanda’s capital city alone] will increase from 0.99 to 1.4 million tons’ annually (GoR 2013: 18).

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