Firewood collection: a traditionnal work, by Frederique Lacraz

Women collecting wood

Women collecting wood

In India, a high density of people is dependant on forest products in order to cook, to heat the houses and to feed the cattle. This has been a tradition for decades if not centuries among Indian villagers. Wood is indeed a privileged energy source since it is free of cost and is, for now on, still available. But this wood collection is step by step destroying the ecosystems of the forests. The forest products collected which are bark, dead and green wood and grass all participate in the balance to keep forests in good health. The barks are protecting the trees from any aggression; the green wood is vital for trees and especially for young trees to grow; the dead wood, by decomposing, plays a major role in the richness of the soil, creating micro ecosystems and the grass gives wild herbivores a source of food. A degradation of any of those elements is putting the others in danger.

Smokeless chulah

Smokeless chulah

But the villagers can not be blamed so easily. The government is given almost no alternative to this wood collection. Liquefied Petrol Gas can be purchased at low price (≈200INR) but for poor villagers, this alternative is still too much expensive. The only way to get energy supply and moreover for free is by collecting wood. The best approach to reduce the wood consumption and therefore the wood collection is to provide sustainable alternatives to the villagers for cooking like smokeless chulah and solar ovens. The introduction of those alternatives may be hard at the beginning but they are necessary to change the wood consumption pattern and reduce the impact of the villagers on the forests. Another way to reduce the wood consumption is to give the opportunity to the villagers to raise their monthly income and make them able to afford energy supplies else than wood. The Lantana furniture making project serves this aim.

Woman making wood bundle

Woman making wood bundle

The wood collection is, one must never forget, a hard job. Villagers (mostly women) go early morning and walk sometime several kilometres inside the jungle in order to find wood supply. They spend around 2 hours collecting and cutting branches with a dharati. After that, they make wood bundles and tie them with green barks. They walk then back home with loads of dozens of kilograms on their heads. Sometime, they go twice a day in the jungle to get more wood if the weather is good, if more wood is needed or if children do not go to school. When asked, the women often say that they do not like going inside the jungle. First because they are afraid of tigers but also because it enable them to do work at home.

Wood bundles are to be sold

Wood bundles are to be sold

The collection of wood serves two purposes. One is for the use in the houses, the other one is to have it sold. For the second one, the problem is even bigger since the collection of wood can be seen as an usual job, and the forests as money suppliers. The more you take from the forests, the more money you will get. This excessive collection can only be stopped or at least reduced if an economic alternative is proposed to those villagers.

Woman attacked by a tiger in June 2009

Woman attacked by a tiger in June 2009

Those ladies are incredibly brave, especially considering the fact that the collection of wood happens in areas where potentially lethal animals (tiger, leopard, elephant, bears, snakes, etc) can be met. Since December 2008, four attacks on villagers by tigers have been encountered, one leading to death. Those attacks are mostly due to the fact that villagers, by going inside the jungle, are stepping on big cats territories. That intrusion is sometime severely punished. When they are moving in groups (more than 4 persons), the villagers are safe from tiger attacks. But when they separate on the collection point, they are much more vulnerable and can not always look around for their safety since they have to search for wood.



2 Responses to “Firewood collection: a traditionnal work, by Frederique Lacraz”

  1. One of the most challenging of conservation efforts…saving a bio-diverse oasis and keeping in mind the well being of millions of humans mostly woman who are dependent on the the great forests of India. Frederique may the mighty spirits of the Jungles always be there with you.

  2. Firewood says:

    What an incredibly difficult situation this is. On one hand, people need to be able to provide their families the most basic necessities, the ability to heat their homes and cook their meals but at what cost. Thank you for your post and bringing this to light.

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