Rwanda is a small, poor, densely populated and geographically enclosed country, which is almost entirely dependent upon imports and road transport. As a result, costs are high and supply is uncertain.
Access to sources of energy such as oil, gas and electricity, on a large scale, or the use of renewable energy, can not be considered today, given that the cost of land is far too high. Therefore, the population has to rely, especially for cooking, on the use of the available biomass resources such as firewood, charcoal and agricultural waste. The massive deforestation caused by logging in previous decades has had devastating effects on the environment: erosion and landslides, on the one hand, flooding and silting in the valleys on the other. The result is a progressive reduction of available land, which is progressively becoming more infertile.
Despite recent efforts in forest management, the balance between production and consumption of 'wood' energy remains at a deficit due to the following factors:
- The shortage of available land for a large-scale efficient reforestation program comes into conflict with agriculture, breeding of livestock or housing.
- The rapid increase in population causes the demand and price of firewood or derivatives to increase.
- The use of available wood energy by consumers is inefficient due to the widespread traditional and artisan way of cooking.
In the countryside food is mostly cooked using deadwood. Usually, a traditional fire is started between three stones. However, in this overpopulated country, even deadwood has become a scarce and precious commodity. Women and children have to go out and search for it daily, often far from home. Self-logging, or felling, even on their own land, is prohibited by law. When gathering is not possible, wood or charcoal must be purchased, which most poor families cannot afford. They usually buy a very small amount of charcoal, which they often burn inefficiently.
In the city: Very few women are able to experience the luxury of cooking on a stove with gas or electricity. However, even these wealthier women often prefer to use wood or charcoal for cooking but they usually have a decent wood stove. The vast majority of families, however, only use metal charcoal-burners, which are very inefficient since they loose a lot of heat. Charcoal is also more expensive and less efficient than wood, but residentsdo not have enough space to store wood.
Most Rwandan women are very concerned about their daily cooking. This concern is primarily caused by necessity rather than theoretical or ecological considerations: for the poorest, it is indeed a daily struggle for survival, for the more well off it is a concern that their modest income could literally go up in smoke.