Although conservationists globally have been campaigning over the past few years for the use of alternative sources of energy such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) other than fuel wood, indications are that it is still very much in vogue in the Sahel country of Burkina Faso.
Indigenes living on the outskirts of the capital Ouagadougou especially, use firewood as their main source of energy in their households.
This came to light, when a group of journalists from 11 West African countries of Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Cote d?Ivoire, Gambia, Niger, Togo, Benin and Cameroon, undertook a field trip Wednesday, October 3, 2012, to the Bissa District as part of a workshop jointly organised by Global Water Partnership, West Africa (GWP-WA) and the International Conservation Union (IUCN-PACO).
The five-day workshop was on the theme: ?Mining and the protection of the environment and natural resources in West Africa? and the field trip was to the soon-to-be-completed Bissa Gold Mine and Bissa community, for the journalists to acquaint themselves with extent of work at the mine and issues that had been discussed at the workshop during the first two days.
In an interaction with community members and officials of the Bissa District, it was gathered that a reserve from which members of the community have over the past years obtained all their fuel wood needs has been lost to the mining company, because it falls within their concession.
But although the community has been given seedlings by the mine to plant, it will not be until some years that the trees will mature for them to fell as firewood, while most parts of the lands around the community are not fertile enough for any agricultural activities.
Indeed, Mayor of the Bissa District, Pierre Celestin Zoungrana, in an interaction with the journalists numbering 30, stated that the reserve has many old trees because it has been able to withstand very harsh weather and droughts in the past years and so has always provided firewood for the surrounding communities as well as fodder for cattle farmers.
For his part, Ouedraogo Tiwodo, the Chief of Nyagale, who was also in charge of the reserve, said they have depended on firewood all their life because that has been the only source of energy available for their use.
But the Environment Officer at the Sabce Environment Department, Mr. Bambara Abdoulaye, agreed that there will indeed be a challenge for the community members who have only know firewood as their source of energy, since the seedlings given to them will take years to mature into trees for use, while another major challenge is whether the trees would be nursed till they are grown because of the scarcity of water.
There however seems to be no way out of this absence of fuel wood, although it is defeating the calls worldwide for sustainable use of the world?s remaining forest resources and the use of alternative forms of energy like solar, wind and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
?Gas is even not enough for the people in Ouagadougou ? because the population has grown big now in Ouagadougou it is very hard now to find the bottle ? I myself I store them ? I have about three bottles that I store, because it may finish and you can?t find it; it is very difficult,? a resident of the Burkinabe capital, Madam Safietu Barry stated.
She divulged that in the whole of Ouagadougou, there are only two private companies that supply gas, hence supply is not able to match demand.
Meanwhile, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), as at 2010, only 20.6% or about 5,649,000 ha out of Burkina Faso?s total land area of 27,360,000 was forested, with 109,000 ha being planted forest.
Statistics from the UN say there was a drastic change in forest cover between 1990 and 2010 in Burkina Faso, as a result of which the country lost an average of 59,900 ha or 0.87% per year. In total, between 1990 and 2010, Burkina Faso lost 17.5% of its forest cover, or around 1,198,000 ha.
The country?s forest cover (excluding planted forests) per 1000 ha from 1990 to 2010 was as follows: 1990 ? 6840, 2000 ? 6190, 2005 ? 5871 and 2010 ? 5540.
Burkina Faso?s forests contain 292 million metric tons of carbon in living forest biomass, while biodiversity and protected areas have some 636 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles according to figures from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Of these, the Centre says 0.3% are endemic, which means they exist in no other country, while 1.4% are threatened. Burkina Faso is also home to at least 1100 species of vascular plants and 11.5% of the country is protected under IUCN categories I-V.
Clearly, Burkina Faso?s unplanned use of forest resources has led to the deterioration of all forest areas around Ouagadougou.
However, an FAO Corporate Document Repository, titled ? Forests, fuels and the future: Wood energy for sustainable development?, says the situation has prompted a Government decision to develop effective management techniques.
According to the FAO, the project which it is executing and is financed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), aims to develop a national programme for the sustainable and integrated production of wood and non-wood forests products, particularly fuel wood and charcoal.
In an area 150km around Ouagadougou, 80000ha are being managed with the active participation of local people using simple techniques to implement silvicultural (the practice of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health, and quality of forests to meet diverse needs and values) operations.
Although with support from the FAO, the Government of Burkina Faso has introduced a planned and more rational approach to forest resources, which the FAO says has resulted in resource conservation and protection, as well as a 50 per cent income increase for local people, who are now able to fulfil urban demand for fuel wood and charcoal, there is still more to be done to halt the rapid deforestation of the country.
It is only hoped that plans that are underway for the management of a further 570000ha in Burkina Faso will be hastened, together with other interventions to reverse the trend from 1990 to 2010.
By Edmund Smith-Asante, back from Ouagadougou
This article was first published in the February 2013 edition of INFO? a newsletter on water and the environment, a publication by GWP/WA and IUCN