Source of energy for cooking    

During the National Population and Housing Census of 2005 households were questioned as to the energy source used for cooking.  The respondents were offered the following categories: electricity, paraffin, wood, coal, charcoal, sawdust, gas, or other. The results revealed that around 80% of Lao households use wood as the main energy source for cooking, 15% use charcoal and 1% use electricity or gas. A comparison with the results of the 1995 census shows that the use of charcoal has become more common at the expense of wood but the use of electricity has decreased. Charcoal has the advantage over wood of having a higher energy content and producing almost no smoke.  However, during the charring process around 70% of the energy of the wood is lost giving a yield of 20-25%.

Map H.7 depicts the main source of energy used by each village, i.e. the source mentioned by the majority of households in a particular village. We see clearly that for the overwhelming majority of the country, wood remains the most important fuel. The use of charcoal is restricted to mostly urban and peri-urban regions around Vientiane Capital and in some villages along the Mekong River in the provinces of Xayaboury, Savannakhet and Champasack. It should be noted that in other provincial capitals such as Luangprabang the majority of households is still using wood as the primary fuel. Furthermore, even in Vientiane Capital more modern sources of energy such as gas or electricity still play a secondary role to charcoal.  The main reason for this is likely to be the relative cost of energy, with charcoal being cheaper, but cultural and consumer preferences should not be ignored either.

In conclusion it can be said that the Lao PDR still depends on wood and charcoal as the main sources of energy for cooking. This has two important implications. We must acknowledge that this demand for firewood puts the forest resources of the Lao PDR under additional pressure. Furthermore, the demand of urban areas for wood and charcoal contribute significantly to the pressure on distant forest reserves. We should also recognise the high dependence of the Lao population on forest resources. Not only do the Lao people depend on the forest for firewood but also for the more widely recognised non-timber forest products (NTFPs). In short, the Lao population has a vital interest in the sustainable use of forest resources, as any further scarcity would rapidly translate into to higher fuel prices and loss of income from NTFPs.




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