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Saturday, April 13, 2013

"Unsustainable fuelwood extraction from South African savannas," by K. J. Wessels et al., ERL 8 (2013); doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/8/1/014007

Environmental Research Letters, 8 (2013) 014007; doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/8/1/014007

Unsustainable fuelwood extraction from South African savannas

K. J. Wessels1,2, M. S. Colgan3, B. F. N. Erasmus4, G. P. Asner3, W. C. Twine4, R. Mathieu5, J. A. N. van Aardt6, J. T. Fisher4 and I. P. J. Smit7


Wood and charcoal supply the majority of sub-Saharan Africa's rural energy needs. The long-term supply of fuelwood is in jeopardy given high consumption rates. Using airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR), we mapped and investigated savanna above-ground biomass across contrasting land uses, ranging from densely populated communal areas to highly protected areas in the Lowveld savannas of South Africa. We combined the LiDAR observations with socio-economic data, biomass production rates and fuelwood consumption rates in a supply–demand model to predict future fuelwood availability. LiDAR-based biomass maps revealed disturbance gradients around settlements up to 1.5 km, corresponding to the maximum distance walked to collect fuelwood. At current levels of fuelwood consumption (67% of households use fuelwood exclusively, with a 2% annual reduction), we calculate that biomass in the study area will be exhausted within thirteen years. We also show that it will require a 15% annual reduction in consumption for eight years to a level of 20% of households using fuelwood before the reduction in biomass appears to stabilize to sustainable levels. The severity of dwindling fuelwood reserves in African savannas underscores the importance of providing affordable energy for rural economic development.

Received 4 October 2012, accepted for publication 12 December 2012 
Published 17 January 2013

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