UNDP-funded extensive research work to identify the conditions to promote sustainable fuelwood and charcoal production and consumption in Cambodia

Over the past five months, GERES Cambodia’s Sector Leader Climate & Development conducted a consulting mission for UNDP about a core topic for GERES: Woodfuels Value Chains and their Sustainability in Cambodia. The mission final report aims to better assess the current situation of woodfuels and charcoal in the country, to identify the different options for prompting sustainable fuelwood and charcoal production and consumption, and to analyze and advise on the current legal and policy frameworks.

Total final biomass energy consumption in Cambodia. Source: International Energy Agency

Biomass energy remains the main source of final energy used in Cambodia (see figure above) with 6 million tonnes of wood consumed every year. Charcoal represents the highest share with 3,493,000 tonnes of wood consumed for a production of 434,000 tonnes of charcoal. It also provides income to more than 80,000 households across the country for a total market-value higher than $100 million per year. If charcoal is mostly used for cooking by households and restaurants, firewood is also used by a wide-range of industries including garment, brick and ice factories, who find in firewood a relatively cheap source of energy. The conversion of forest areas into agricultural lands has long provided abundant and cheap wood resources to supply the national energy needs but this conversion process is slowly coming to an end. In some areas, charcoal producers are now turning to Protected Areas to collect wood, which threatens not only forest ecosystems, but also the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities. Beyond wood collection, the transformation of wood into charcoal is generally very inefficient, both in terms of energy performance and environmental outcomes (see figure below).

Losses during traditional charcoal production and use (GERES, 2017)

Assessment of the current cooking practices shows that households and restaurants’ choices for cooking fuels are based on multiple factors among which cost, convenience, health and tradition. In urban areas like Phnom Penh, cooking with good quality LPG is cheaper than cooking with charcoal. However, charcoal still remains widely used, not only for initial investment or safety reasons, but also because of cooking traditions and a higher preference for cooking certain types of dishes with charcoal like big pots of soup, which need long simmering, or BBQ.

From a traditional kiln to produce charcoal from illegal fuelwood to an improved charcoal kiln developed by GERES

When it comes to the highly inefficient charcoal value chain, many energy losses could be avoided with proper training on charcoal kiln construction, wood drying and better control of the firing. But, most of all, sustainable supply of fuelwood should be promoted. However, promoting tree plantation for the national market in a context of unregulated wood collection can only happen if some conditions are met. At the core of these requirements is the differentiated treatment of sustainable charcoal against illegal charcoal, and the improvement of the marketing and distribution strategy of sustainable charcoal through the structuration of the supply chain.Many alternatives can support the switch to sustainable woodfuels value chains. On the demand side, the promotion of sustainable charcoal as well as alternative cooking fuels, along with the dissemination of more efficient stoves should be promoted despite an increasing use of LPG in urban and peri-urban areas. Likewise, to support the sustainable growth of the industrial sector, the transition to wood residues from existing plantation as well as rice husk briquettes should be promoted in combination with the promotion of investments in energy efficiency.

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