Fuelwood Studies in India: Myths and Reality


Fuelwood is defined as ‘wood in rough form obtained from trunks and branches of trees to be used for fuel purposes such as cooking, heating or power generation’. This 2002 report summarizes and reviews seven national level, 10 state level and five local level studies to provide a critical review of studies on fuelwood, wood balance, and household energy in India from the preceding two decades. 

It was authored by the former Director General of the Forest Survey of India, Devendra Pandey. One of its objectives was to analyse the extent to which fuelwood collection was responsible for the degradation of forests in the country.

According to the report, traditional fuels (fuelwood, crop residue, and dung cake) accounted for around 90 per cent of domestic energy use in rural areas at the beginning of this century. Fuelwood alone accounted for 60 per cent of total fuel. In urban areas, from 1983 to 2002, overall consumption of tradition fuel declined from 49 per cent to 24 per cent. This was due to the increasing availability of commercial fuels alternatives like liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), kerosene and electricity. 

Since most studies at the time relied on consumption statistics with a weak focus on supply and source, sustainability of fuelwood and actual contribution of sources are not well understood, the report states. It analyses fuelwood consumption in relation to availability and accessibility of resources, effect of climate as well as the extent of urbanisation and income level of consumers. 

The 108-page report is divided into nine sections: Introduction (Section 1); India’s Energy Use Dynamics (Section 2); Review of Sampling Designs and Methodologies for Assessing Consumption (Section 3); Results of Fuelwood Studies: Review and Analysis (Section 4); Trends (Section 5); Identification of Fuelwood Hot Spots (Section 6); Policy Responses to Fuelwood Issues (Section 7); An Approach to Make Fuelwood Statistics Reliable (Section 8); and Conclusions and Recommendations (Section 9).


  1. In 1953, about 83 per cent of the Indian population lived in rural areas. By 2001, this went down to 72 per cent due to urbanisation. However, in real numbers, the population in rural India grew from 300 million to 720 million during the period. Therefore, the demand for traditional, non-commercial energy has only increased in the period.

  2. Between 1953 and 1997, the use of commercial energy in the country rose tenfold, the report notes. The per capita consumption, however, remained very low.

  3. Due to growth of population and rise in consumption, the energy needs of the nation increased. In terms of commercial energy, self-reliance in crude oil dropped from 56 per cent in 1990 to 34 per cent in 1998.

  4. Studies and surveys have assessed fuelwood consumption of households as part of other expenditure surveys but have failed to consider the impact of forest resources (availability or lack) on such consumption. This is especially worth noting because fuelwood has historically been collected free of cost in India.

  5. Per capita consumption is the most vital statistic in measuring total fuelwood consumption in the country, the report states. However, it is a dynamic quantity that depends on income level, availability of commercial alternatives like kerosene, electricity and LPG, equipment and access to forests, and climate.

  6. The report outlines two ways in which household income impacts fuelwood consumption. A household which earns more can add more food items to their diet resulting in more fuel necessary for cooking these. On the other hand, fuel becomes more affordable and households might switch to clean and convenient energy sources leading to less use of fuelwood.

  7. As per 2001 data from the National Sample Survey Organisation, fuelwood (61.5 per cent), crop residue (14 per cent) and dung cake (10.6 per cent) dominated energy use in rural areas. In urban areas, the fuels used were LPG (44 per cent), kerosene (22 per cent) and fuelwood (21 per cent).

  8. As per some of the state-level studies under review, a considerable amount of fuelwood was sourced outside of forests, from wastelands or private lands. Since the total area under forest cover is not expected to increase, and more and more areas are designated as protected, in future most fuelwood is likely to be collected from outside farm forestry, wastelands and agroforestry.

  9. Satellite based studies usually exclude the trees outside forest boundaries usually as assessing such scattered vegetation is difficult. However, trees like these are a crucial resource in many regions and no calculation of forest/tree resources will be complete without their inclusion, the report states.

  10. To account for the deficit in fuelwood, the Sixth Five-year Plan (1980–1985) of the Indian government started a rural fuelwood plantation scheme. A Joint Forest Management (JFM) programme was also initiated which, as per 2000 State of Forest Report, was one of the reasons for a marginal increase in forest cover in the country.

  11. Despite various programmes for rural energy development, allocation of funds to fuelwoods and renewables were only 0.25 per cent of those to the commercial energy sector – 5.4 billion and 1,121 billion rupees respectively.

  12. To make fuelwood statistics reliable, the report suggests periodic physical measurement of fuelwood alongside questionnaire-based surveys. It also notes that since production of firewood depends on biomass produced during the full life cycle of trees, flow of fuelwood should be observed in the long term.

  13. The report recommends formulation of a suitable rural energy policy as the author believes 50-60 per cent of the Indian population will continue to be dependent on traditional energy for decades. The policy should aim towards adopting emerging trends and focus on fuel saving devices and renewables.

  14. Another recommendation states that non-forest wastelands can be used for planting tree species suitable for fuelwood. It also advocates for new studies and a periodic assessment of both consumption and sources of fuelwood.

    Focus and Factoids by Jerry Jose.


Devendra Pandey


Centre for International Forestry Research, Indonesia