Guatemala has a firewood consumption problem. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Guatemala is the country with the highest consumption of firewood in Central America. The energy sector is the second highest emitting sector with 39% of total emissions and firewood represents 57% of the total energy matrix. Close to two million households, or about 70% of the population, use firewood to meet their energy needs. Total annual demand for firewood is estimated to be 16 million tons of firewood on a dry basis, equivalent to approximately 40 million annual barrels of oil. Rural households, which are also the poorest, are the largest consumers of firewood, representing approximately 86.5% of total demand.
Demand of firewood significantly exceeds supply. Excess consumption over production was 5 million tons in 2010, generating approximately 8.7 million tCO2e/year and it is expected that figure has continued to grow. About 49% of firewood is extracted from natural forests. This imbalance has conduced to the increase in the price of firewood, even in rural areas. Anecdotal evidence indicates that poor people in the highlands of Guatemala are paying between 40 a 60 USD a month in firewood, in a country where the average annual income for the lower middle class the is $1,619 in US dollars, or between 30 and 50% of their total. This is more significant since about half of the population live in the rural areas, since three quarters of all rural residents fall below the poverty line. In addition to climate and environmental threats, the unsustainable use of firewood presents severe health challenges to the household. It is estimated that about 70% of Guatemalan families using firewood are at high-risk of cardiac and respiratory diseases, mostly children and women, generating losses equivalent to one percent of GDP and more than 5,000 deaths per year.
Population growth statistics estimate an average increase of 65,000 new families per year using firewood as their main source of energy for the next ten years, a trend that is not foreseen to change over the next 30 years unless there is a very significant intervention. The increasing levels of poverty and extreme poverty rates in Guatemala, will exacerbate the problem. Preliminary financial assessments done in Guatemala determined that the subsectors of energy efficiency and renewable energy represented a major opportunity to reduce emissions.
IDB is preparing a program targeting this development challenge by creating a market of improved cookstoves. Currently, the absolute majority of efficient cookstoves are donated by local governments and NGOs, but their impact is limited, unsustainable, and will not reverse the current trend of increased firewood consumption. Access to efficient cookstoves is limited by a lack of awareness of their benefits, credit, and availability in the rural areas. By lowering the barriers to credit, bringing the cookstoves to the rural communities and creating marketing campaigns on one hand, and strengthening producers on the other, the program aims at improving the efficient use of firewood to 1.1 million people in rural and indigenous communities in five mostly rural departments in Guatemala’s highlands. They will be direct beneficiaries of capacity development activities and increased access to funding, while also receiving indirect economic and health benefits derived from the adoption of efficient cookstoves.
The program focuses on three strategic pillars defined in the Action Plan of the National strategy for sustainable wood production and use in Guatemala: (i) improving access to efficient cooking technologies; (ii) increasing demand, and (iii) promoting an enabling environment in rural and indigenous communities –the main consumers of firewood in the country- living in poor and extremely poor living conditions in the municipalities prioritized by the Action Plan in the departments of Alta Verapaz, Quiché, Huehuetenango, San Marcos and Chiquimula, based on their firewood deficit, food insecurity. Given its market-oriented approach, the Program is likely to have a spill-over effect in other departments in terms of increased demand and the creation of a market. In such case, the intervention in other departments could be considered if significantly contributing to the Program objectives.
Two technologies will be introduced: in remote, isolated areas where electricity is lacking, intermittent or without enough capacity, efficient firewood cookstoves will be promoted. In areas with higher power quality, induction electric cookstoves will be encouraged. The economics are there: for firewood cookstoves, revealed consumption reduction are in the range of 50%, creating savings enough to pay for the cookstove in installments of 10 USD/month for two years, and leaving 10-20 USD for other uses. In the case of the electric cookstoves, efficiencies reach 85%, increasing the electricity bill between 10 and 15 USD/month. If we add the payment in installments of the improved electricity connection, the stove itself and the required cookware in the amount of 15 USD/month for two years, it also leaves 10-20 USD for other uses. From an family budget point of view, both solutions are similar, but from an environmental point of view, an induction electric cookstove is preferred, as the use of firewood will be reduced dramatically, allowing the country to close its firewood deficit.