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Reducing use of wood energy will save forests

EDITORIAL
By | November 19th 2009

Protecting gazetted forests and woodlands, and planting trees on ten per cent of privately held parcels are good beginnings to dealing with the problem of conservation. The drop of forest cover to just 2.7 per cent of the country’s territory as the use of wood energy continues unabated is a wake-up call to the nation on the challenge we face. However, reducing reliance on wood energy must be part of the Forest Service’s strategy.

The launch of the short-rains tree planting campaign introduced the message: For each tree you cut, plant three. The nuances of protecting or replanting indigenous trees are lost in the simplified message, but we presume we will see local trees pushed alongside commercially attractive exotics. If that isn’t done, we risk a situation where the one cut is the mature indigenous tree while the ones planted are the cheaper and faster-growing exotics. Even at a ratio of three-to-one, this would be a bad bargain for the nation.

That said, it would be preferable to cut even fewer trees. With the rising population, wood shall be needed for housing, furniture and other products. This is likely to take up most of the commercially grown product, leaving the poor reliant on wood energy under pressure to raid our forests.

Thus, ensuring affordable alternatives for cooking and heating is key to the success of forest conservation efforts.

Given that a large number of respiratory illnesses are attributed to the use of wood fuel, introducing alternatives also has an effect on health and productivity, especially in the rural areas. A holistic approach is likely to get the best results.

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