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Women and the Environment: Viewpoint into the fuel wood business in Africa

The concern is growing about the depletion of Africa’s natural resources.  For some time now, the debate about the environment and development has always centered on the rich rather than the poor, on urban rather than rural and on men rather women. The result of this emphasis has led to the deterioration of the environment, of rising poverty, air pollution, diseases and the like.

Through the gendered division of labour in Africa and Asia for example, where women are primarily the care takers of children, the sick and aged and where roles in agricultural production are differentiated by sex, the idea was that women through their feminist nature were portrayed as “privileged environmental managers” ( Braidotti et al., 1994). This assumption is contrasted however with the fuel wood trade in Africa. This economic activity is growing daily. In rural areas wood tends to become the fuel of necessity rather than by choice for cooking most especially and as a source of building material for supporting the roofs of homes. With no alternatives for viable livelihoods, rural people are forced to cut down tree shrubs or even fell bigger trees to sell as fuel wood or burn it into charcoal as a source of income generation to sustain their families. As rapid population growth increases in the urban cities of Africa, the demand for charcoal is also increasing.  Suppliers are digging through forests and ashes to get this commodity to their consumers in the urban cities through unsustainable methods. This is sparked off by the intermittent shortage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) in most parts of Africa who depend on it solely for cooking at home.  More trees are cut down daily than are replanted. Many locals argue that this business in charcoal trade helps to solve most of their social and economic problems in their communities. It has become a livelihood support system given the fact that there are no businesses or lucrative jobs apart from seasonal farming that many engage in.  Although this is true to some extent on the flip side it has dire repercussions. There are serious environmental implications in fuel wood production. For example it diminishes wildlife population, depletes soil nutrients as bush fires are mostly unavoidable in the cause of burning wood for charcoal.

The unprecedented rate at which forest resources in Africa are being depleted as a result of population growth and rising poverty shows that if nothing is done urgently now, fuel wood or the charcoal business will continue to thrive as an important or lucrative economic activity. It should thus become a prime concern for environmentalists and policy makers to ensure an efficient and sustainable management of forests in Africa. Without a tangible effort to help women (who are mostly the charcoal producers) who depend solely on the environment with an alternative means of livelihood, grave environmental consequences would befall the people of Africa.

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2 comments on “Women and the Environment: Viewpoint into the fuel wood business in Africa

  1. Fascinating post. Such a shame that the same thing that happened to the Amazon is happening here.

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