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University of Nairobi (2004)

The effects of biomass energy use by rural households in a dryland environment - case study of Mwingi District

Gikonyo, Josphat Mbiri

Titre : The effects of biomass energy use by rural households in a dryland environment - case study of Mwingi District

Auteur : Gikonyo, Josphat Mbiri

Université de soutenance : University of Nairobi

Grade : Master of Arts in Environmental Planning and Management 2004

The predominant use of biomass energy in rural households continues to raise serious environmental concerns especially because of its unsustainable utilization. Additionally, its use could contribute to adverse socio-economic impacts, as effects on the environment have related social and economic consequences on people’s lives. This is more so in the arid and semi-arid lands where biomass resources are more scant, and the environments more fragile. This study set out to investigate the environmental and related social impacts arising from this predominant use of biomass energy in rural households in a dryland environment, namely, Mwingi District in Kenya. Like other energy studies, it examined the households’ energy demand, and compared this with the sustainable biomass supply available and accessible. Environmental and social impacts arising from the biomass deficit and the actual use of particular biomass types were then investigated. This study also aimed at shifting from the usual energy-environment studies done at national levels, to more local and centralized areas given the site-specific nature of biomass energy. It further examined whether there were any differences in consumption between households purchasing firewood and those collecting it 4om_various sources. " ’" ’ In undertaking this research project, a sample of 60 households from 5 divisions of Mwingi district was sampled. :ro determine the biomass demand of households, actual weight measurements were taken. Other household practices in the use of biomass were also observed, among them : the type of stoves used, and whether they undertook tree planting. The study then assessed the sustainable supply of biomass available and accessible in the district and compared this with the households’ demand to determine the biomass balances. The study found that current biomass consumption in Mwingi is about 276,000 tonnes as compared to the sustainable accessible supply of 241,000 tonnes. There thus exists a large biomass deficit of about 35,000 tonnes which is bound to rise to 125,000 tonnes in the next 20 years if no interventions are put in place. This exhibited a clear case of unsustainable use of biomass resources in the district, and resulted in negative environmental impacts. Key among these were : Deforestaton ; destruction of water catchments and subsequent drying of rivers and water resources scarcity ; soil erosion ; loss of soil fertility ; and air pollution. Social and economic impacts identified were : Increased distances to source biomass energy ; increased durations spent in biomass energy collection ; use of monetary resources in purchasing of previously free firewood and cheap charcoal ; loss of cultural practices associated with use of biomass energy ; food insecurity ; diseases ; and gender inequality. The study also found out that despite the predominant use of biomass fuels, only a few households undertake tree planting, and even where this is done, the trees are exotic varieties used mainly for fruit and for shade. Additionally, the study found that there are few efforts by households to reduce biomass consumption by using energy-efficient cooking stoves and other energy saving practic’e"s ma _due to low energy-conservation awareness among households. From the identified environmental and social impacts, the research project then proposed some area-specific recommendations to ameliorate the situation. These included : Promotion of use of improved efficiency energy saving cooking stoves for both firewood and charcoal ; use of improved kilns in charcoal production ; better management of existing vegetation types ; agroforestry promotion ; promotion of indigenous food crops ; energy substitution ; and a shift in government policy to enable to foregoing to be actualized.


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