India's Firewood Crisis Re-examined
Households in rural India are highly dependent on firewood as their main source of energy, partly because non-biofuels tend to be expensive. The prevailing view is therefore that, when faced with shortages of firewood in the village commons, such households, and especially the women in them, have to spend more and more time searching for firewood and eventually settle for poorer-quality biomass such as twigs, branches and dry leaves. Using data from a random sample of rural households in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, we come to very different conclusions, however. We find that households in villages with degraded forests do not spend longer hours searching for firewood, but instead switch to either using firewood from private trees or to using agricultural waste for fuel. In the long run, moreover, households respond to the firewood shortage by altering the mix of private trees on their land in favor of firewood, as opposed to fruit, trees. We find also that, Joint Forest Management, a government program initiated in the 1990s, is having a positive impact on the firewood economy.
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