Western Ghats

Fuelling Change: Firewood alternatives for conservation

A community-based conservation initiative aimed at wildlife conservation in the wild spaces of Karnataka, while benefitting the forest-fringe communities, empowering their women and improving lives.

Firewood, folks, fauna and forests

A long-term community-based conservation initiative, this project supports the recovery of large mammals in the Malai Mahadeshwara and Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary landscape. This forested land is home to a diverse range of wildlife species and also supports thousands of people.

Forest-fringe communities in this landscape are heavily dependent on forests for firewood for a variety of needs including cooking, heating water, and to sell for income.

Some of the trees most preferred as firewood like Albizia amara and Acacia catechu are also important resources wildlife depends on. For instance, from a survey of over 5,300 firewood dependent families we found that 61.3% harvest Albizia amara which is an extremely important food source for elephants, especially during dry seasons.

Furthermore, some of these commonly harvested trees also offer nesting space for habitat specialist species like the white-naped tit, which are found only in dry thorny forests.

Repeated chopping of these trees can contribute towards deforestation and reduced carbons stocks while harvesting from the same area over time can result in habitat fragmentation. Fragmentation can be detrimental for large mammals that need large, contiguous protected spaces to survive and thrive.

Women, firewood, and health

Harvesting firewood requires the women to venture into the forests several times a week, often walking for hours on uneven terrain in harsh weather conditions with heavy loads.

They spend anywhere from 5-8 hours a day and an estimated 800 hours annually (34 full days or 100 working days) just collecting firewood. Additionally, going into the forests exposes them to chance encounters with wild animals that also occupy that space, resulting in human-wildlife conflict.

Firewood burning releases copious amounts of carbon dioxide, soot and suspended particulate matter (SPM). Other than contributing towards global warming, the potentially carcinogenic substances over time result in severely deteriorated lung function among women, who are directly exposed while cooking.

Changing lives, one LPG cookstove at a time

Women can now prepare meals on time for their children so they may attend school regularly, and freed up so much time that they now earn extra through odd jobs. With fewer trips into the forests, there are reduced chances of human-wildlife conflict, further contributing towards positive attitudes towards conflict-prone wildlife species and wildlife in general, promoting the understanding of more peaceful co-existence.

Switching to firewood alternatives has ushered in many positive changes in the lives of the women, while conserving firewood tree species that also happen to be vital fodder and nesting resources for wildlife