Wood for the kitchen: Towards a history of the supply and use of fuelwood in urban households of West Africa: The case of Lomé (from 1884 to the present)


Hanza Diman

Research Area:


Up to today, fuelwood (wood and or charcoal) remains one of the most important sources of energy used for cooking purposes in the majority of West African cities. In line with the accelerating urbanization, especially during the later 20th century, this demand for fuelwood has been steadily increasing, causing at least two major problems: On one hand, the hinterland areas supplying the cities with the needed material has continuously expanded and led to accelerating deforestation there. On the other hand, the rising demand for fuelwood and the increasing distances of supply areas have an increasingly significant impact on the income of households that cannot afford other sources of domestic energy (electricity or gas). The environmental as well as socioeconomic and social causes and consequences of fuelwood consumption in the context of urbanization in Africa have so far found little attention in research. Considering all these challenges, a historical approach appears to be particularly promising, because it helps to look at changes regarding the fuelwood as energy source in a shifting political and socio-economic context. For that matter, this dissertation project examines the supply as well as the use of fuelwood for cooking in Lomé, the capital of Togo. The case study provides an analytical framework for a better understanding of the development and of the changing mechanisms of fuelwood demand and consumption. This will clearly help for an assessment of the future of fuelwood demand and supply in West African capital cities. The thesis is therefore raising the following questions:

How and by what factors has the supply and use of energy or rather wood use for the domestic need in Lomé, evolved in different historical periods, from the colonial period up until today? How have prices of fuelwood developed over time? Which measures have been taken by the authorities before and after 1960 to intervene in this sector, for instance in deforestation caused by the production of charcoal, or in marketing mechanisms? Who used, and why, which kind of domestic energy for cooking at different times? How has the constant growth of the population affected the need for fuelwood as well as the socioeconomic situation of households? How did households try to cope with the situation in different historical and social contexts?

What changes in the size and sources of domestic energy supply can be anticipated for the future in view of these historical experiences including the opinions of different actors involved in the process of supply and use of fuelwood?

The dissertation addresses all these questions by using an interdisciplinary approach (diverse fields of history -such as economic and social history, environmental history, history of energy, fieldwork and archival research-, cultural studies).