Biomass Fuel at the Nexus: Policy Lessons from Bottom-Up Perspectives in Urban Ghana
80% of sub-Saharan households are estimated to rely on solid biomass as fuel for cooking. Worldwide, biomass fuel use is disproportionately rural. But in sub-Saharan Africa, the International Energy Agency estimates that 60 percent of urban dwellers use wood or wood-based products (charcoal).
Biomass fuel use is linked to premature death from pollution, environmental problems of deforestation and emissions linked to climate change. Hence, the Sustainable Development Goal 7 promises to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” by 2030.
led by Dr Sujatha Raman, University of Nottingham
- Dr Mike Clifford, Faculty of Engineering, University of Nottingham
- Dr Charlotte Ray, Faculty of Engineering, University of Nottingham
- Dr Temilade Sesan, Centre for Petroleum, Energy Economics and Law (CPEEL), University of Ibadan, Nigeria
- Dr Divine Novieto, Civil Engineering, Ho Polytechnic, Ghana
- Gyapa Enterprises, Ghana
- Ghana Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
Policy initiatives have tended to take a siloed approach to this problem, targeting ‘clean energy’ from specific artefacts (improved cookstoves, biogas digesters) or cleaner fuels (e.g., LPG). In 2010, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves set a target for take-up of cleaner stoves and fuels in a “100 million households by 2020”. Yet, improved stove designs have been promoted since the late 1940s with limited success.
Where biomass fuel has been considered within a wider nexus, a top-down approach has led to misleading assumptions. In the 1970s, fuelwood gathering was equated with deforestation; no consideration was given to whether, where and how rural dwellers managed the process in harmonious ways as social scientists discovered was the case in some
regions. Studies of local attitudes to policy-defined problems are now common, but results of structured questionnaires are open to question with poorer householders likely to feel constrained to answer in ways ‘expected’ of them.
Qualitative social researchers have highlighted unexpected findings from a more open-ended approach focusing on the tensions and harmonies constituting the daily hum of life in households, but these ‘bottom-up’ insights are rarely reflected in high-level, technically-oriented policies.
The challenge is to put biomass fuel at the nexus with food, waste, the environment and most of all, with people and practices.
We will address this challenge by co-creating and disseminating a policy-relevant nexus-based understanding through a partnership between the University of Nottingham team leading the project and academics and stakeholders in West Africa.
The research will focus on urban Ghana where there is a resurgence of policy interest in biomass energy with the country hosting the 2015 Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves Clean
Cooking Forum (attended by team members) and with the establishment of third-sector efforts in this area, i.e., the Ghana Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and Gyapa, a social enterprise.
Promising, local innovations in nexus thinking are also emerging. In Accra, a local enterprise is attempting to link waste management, energy and agricultural sectors by processing sewage into briquettes finished to look like traditional charcoal briquettes for use as fertiliser as well as fuel. But links must be made between such efforts, highlevel policies (including frameworks for ‘Sustainable Charcoal’ emerging from an agro-forestry perspective) and a bottom-up understanding of the nexus in households and the charcoal supply chain.
Image credit – with thanks to Temilade Sesan