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Fuelwood, Food and Forests: A study in Mirzapur

The greatest discovery made by man ever was the fire with which he got the power to cook food and since then it has created an intense demand on wood. With development in science and technology and discovery of new fuels, the choice of energy kept shifting to cleaner fuel. While, the modern fuels like LPG and kerosene have been the major energy sources in urban areas, but in rural households it is the traditional bio fuels that are being used as the major energy source for cooking. The fact that natural resources are freely available at zero cost involved, added with unavailability of alternate fuel sources the bio fuels, chiefly wood and cow dung are the principal fuels used in rural areas. Fuelwood has been the chief fuel choice in rural India. As population is increasing fast and land areas under forest are shrinking, so it is indeed an alarming situation.

Women and children with fuelwood. (Mirzapur, September, 2010)

According to NSSO, 2004-2005 survey, in India 75% of the rural households use firewood and chips for.
FAO estimates that the fuel wood accounts for 80% of wood products in developing countries.
India possesses around 17 percent of the world's population and 18 percent of world's livestock with only 2.4 percent of the world's land area and 1.7 percent of the world's forest stock.
The current annual withdrawal of fuelwood from forests of India is estimated at 235 million cubic meters against a sustainable capacity of about 48 million cubic meters.
The productivity of forests is extremely low as 0.7 cum (Cubic meters) as against the world average 2.1 cum/ha./year. The per capita forest area in the country is 0.08 ha as compared to the world average of 0.64 ha.

Fuelwood collection is not only now a time consuming process due to fast depleting forest areas which force long travel time, but also the health implications of fuelwood burning has been studied widely.

Biomass smoke contains many noxious components, including respirable particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, formaldehyde and polyaromatic hydrocarbons such as benzo(a)pyrene (WHO).
High exposures to these air pollutants have been shown to cause serious health problems, such as acute respiratory infections. It is evident from studies that fuelwood burning has many health implications which includes several health risks arising from indoor air pollutions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, tuberculosis (TB), asthma, and blindness.
In India, 500,000 premature deaths annually are reported in children under five and women could be attributable to the indoor pollution caused because of use of biofuels.

The forests in Mirzapur district are facing great threats from two things: illegal mining and excessive cutting of trees for fuelwood. This study aims at critically examine the cooking fuel pattern in the households and how the choice of fuelwood is linked with the pressure on forests, health of the women who are the chief members exposed to smokes while cooking on biofuels and the socio economic conditions of the households. The study includes the share of fuelwood among other fuels, amount of fuelwood required per capita, average distance and time spent in collection of fuelwood, frequency of visit to jungle and the participation of members in the same.

Research Findings:

The study was done in 5 villages namely Atari, Dhanawal, Haraura, Bahuti and Gulalpur in sub district Marihan of district Mirzapur in March, 2011. The results show that per household the average amount of fuelwood required is 6.87 kg per day. While 70% of households have to travel more than 6.5 km to collect fuelwood thus depicting those dependent upon forest, the average distance travelled each month in collection of the fuelwood is 71.42 km. The average time spent per visit to procure fuelwood from forest takes about 7.5 hours. The average frequency of visit to jungle made by a household for collection of fuelwood is 5.37 per month.The participation of adult men is 98.53% while that of adult women is 39.71% in collection of fuelwood from forests. The participation percentage for the same is 7.22% for children below 15 years.
92.86% of households are dependent on fuelwood while the total percentage of households dependent on forests for their fuelwood needs is 87.78%. While approximately 58.76% of the households use wood supplemented by cow dung as fuel, nearly 30.93% of the households use wood as only source for fueling their stoves.
The 74.6% of marginal, 52.17% of small, 66.67% of medium and 50% of large farmers depends directly on governmental forests only for their fuelwood need.
Of the total households surveyed which use only fuelwood, 50% of the women complained of frequent headache and above 25% complained of frequent chest pain. The average age at which females start cooking is found to be 10.97. The complaint of chest pain is highest in households where cow dung is used as chief fuel (33%), followed by households using only wood (26.67%). It is least when wood and dung is used together (14.04%). The complains of coughing was found to be maximum at 21.05% in households using both wood and dung. Maximum complains of eye burns (24.56%) and coughing (21.05%) are observed in case when wood and dung are used together. Body ache is indoor air pollution independent disease which results due to continuous sitting or bad posture used while cooking. Out of total households surveyed, 27.84% complained of body ache.
The cereal consumption frequency was found to be 72.16% consuming at 3 times a day while remaining 27.84% consume only 2 times day. 52.58% of the households depend on sources outside the farm production to meet their foodgrain requirements. Only 11.34% of households were found to consume pulses on daily basis while nearly 25% of the household consume on weekly basis. The marginal farmers being economically weaker have thus the lowest percentage (69.12%) eating three times cereals a day followed by small farmers (73.91%).
Only 11.34% of households were found to consume pulses on daily basis. While the percentage of households consuming pulses more than two times a week is 27.84%, it is 24.74% for households consuming pulses once in a week. The maximum numbers of households don’t consume pulses even once a week which shares 36.08% of all the surveyed households.
96.9% of the households are not satisfied with the governmental health services and only 6.19% of households keep a regular visit to governmental health centre of their villages. 51% of the households have one or more members addicted to tobacco chewing while 26% are affected with smoking. The percentage of households addicted to marijuana and alcohol were found to be 14% and 18% respectively. The incidents of addictions were found to be more in the case of marginal farmers.
The average BMI was found to be normal with figure just above to be under weight condition at 18.96.
57.74% households surveyed agreed that their local leaders are corrupted while 39.17% of households avowed against the statement. The percentage of households not agreeing to corruption is highest in marginal groups (48.53%) followed by medium (25%) and small groups (17.39%). An opposite trend was observed in favour of the corruption, while 100% of the large farmers and over 50% of each small and medium farmer groups strongly agreeing to the fact that local leaders are corrupted as compared to only 19.12% of marginal farmers.

The newspaper clip from Hindustan, September 6th, 2011
It can be said from the study that the region is facing a huge pressure on forests. To protect the forests, serious approach is needed from the governmental agencies to combat the economic instability among the farmers by providing irrigation facilities and better agricultural services. Some employment opportunities have to be developed. Women are needed to be educated as they are the home decision makers in cooking and easy access to modern fuels have to be assured at low cost.

Study originally done by: Debadityo Sinha (Publishing of data without permission is prohibited)