Affordability is an important issue when discussing access to modern energy systems in rural Ghana.
Traditional use of open fires and poorly functioning woodstoves produce lots of gaseous pollutants and particles, which is injurious to the health of women and children who are mostly responsible for food preparation in rural areas.
Fuelwood and charcoal meet approximately 75 per cent of Ghana’s fuel requirements and approximately 69 per cent of all urban households in Ghana use charcoal, but the annual per capita consumption is about 180 kg, while the total annual consumption is about 700,000 tons.
Medicine has established that air pollution from cooking with solid fuel is a key risk factor in childhood acute lower respiratory infections – pneumonia, as well as in many other respiratory, cardiovascular and ocular diseases.
Inefficient and polluting cooking processes are deeply entrenched in the Ghanaian culture, consequently, exposure to indoor air pollution in Ghana is responsible for the annual loss of 502,000 disability-adjusted life-years (DALY).
The DALY is a standard metric used by the World Health Organization (WHO) to indicate the burden of death and illness due to specific risk factors.
Use of fuelwood especially in enclosed kitchens creates health risks such as lung cancer, stroke, cataract and burns.
Traditionally, Ghanaians cook with high firepower with cooking pots usually round-bottom by design to allow for easy driving of most indigenous foods.
Rural households in Ghana generally adopt a similar cooking style and habit.
However, the type of woodstoves used vary from one geographical location to the other and are made with different materials including; stones, concrete blocks, clay and metals that come in different designs.
The ancient traditional woodstove in Ghana has three-stone stoves of clay or mud stove or tyre rim stove.
Fuelwood is gathered from many sources, notably, virgin and degraded forests, savannah (shrublands) or mangroves, wood fuel/forest plantations, farmlands, pasturelands, offcuts of processed timber and roadsides.
Though sustainable sources of wood fuel are legally obtained from plantations, farms, homesteads and other planted sources, over-exploitation of fuelwood by local communities leads to degradation of natural vegetation resulting in deforestation.
A report from the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources estimates over 90 per cent of fuel or firewood comes from the natural forest and farmlands.
The remaining is obtained from logging residues, sawmills and plantations or woodlots.
The unsustainable production of wood fuel, especially in the fragile ecological areas of the Savanna regions, is also listed among the driving forces of deforestation and forest degradation in the country in the last three decades.
In fact, women and children used for fuelwood collection often suffer from drudgery and are exposed to attacks of dangerous animals such as scorpions and snakes.
Though Ghana has developed several national policies and plans related to fuelwood, there are still no legally-binding arrangements to enforce provisions on production, supply and marketing of solid fuel.
The demand for wood puts Ghana’s forests under tremendous pressure and has severe consequences for the ecosystem as a whole.
It is necessary for the nation to break this trend and move particularly the rural large populations away from the practices, resulting in unacceptably high gas emissions and indoor air pollution which damages health.
There is, therefore, the need to provide a means to increase availability and affordability of modern energy systems by lowering retail prices and introducing quality guarantees as well.
In fact, fuel-saving, less smoking stove, durability, affordability, versatility, portability and speed of use must be factors to consider for improved wood stoves.
To be able to develop a sustainable market for access to, and promote improved energy systems successfully in the country, there is the need for end-users to perceive and understand effects of using firewood on their health and socio-economic development.