A GNA feature by Emelia Ennin
Accra, May 11, GNA - It was a bright sunny Saturday, at a farming community along the Accra - Kasoa road. Typical of people living at the countryside, a number of households have heaped huge earthen bowls with peeled cassava and plantain on coal pots, ready to exert energy to transform the boiling foodstuff, into fufu, a popular Ghanaian staple dish.
The nutritional chemistry of the soup to match the fufu is a foregone conclusion. The boiling soup working assiduously on all manner of protein spanning bush meat to koobi (salted fish) on red burning charcoal, awaits the gleeful expectations of the local caterers to serve the many hungry mouths in their abode.
The local restaurants or chop bars are also spots where dishes such as banku, konkonte and ampesie are not spared the ordeal of the burning inferno of charcoal to be converted into the pillars of satisfaction for expectant taste buds and famishing stomachs.
Although people have the right to good food and nutrition, the means of achieving this goal is, however, worrying.
The data on Ghanaians using charcoal for cooking is frightening and uninspiring, creating huge gaps in the sustainable management of the country's dwindling forest resources.
Statistics at the Ministry of Energy indicates that 80 per cent of the thermal energy used for cooking in Ghana is by biomass, mostly charcoal and firewood.
The grim reality behind the figure is the fact that wood-fuel affects the health of users and contributes to the depletion of the vegetation.
Inefficient and poorly ventilated stoves cause indoor air pollution, which has significant health impacts. Women and children are primarily affected as they suffer from acute respiratory disorders caused by the smoke.
The heavy dependence of a large segment of the population on biomass is also a major socio-economic development obstacle to the nation.
Ghana's tropical forest area today is 25 per cent of its original size. Yet, almost two per cent of the forest is depleted every year. Many rural women are saddled with the problem of spending over five hours daily to gather firewood either for cooking or for sale. What can be done to solve these problems in order to conserve the forest and reduce poverty?
A stakeholder meeting on the issue recently advocated the use of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) as alternative source of energy and for poverty reduction.
LPG is a by-product from refining crude oil. It is the generic name for compressed hydrocarbon gases, typically butane and propane. It also occurs naturally.
The use of LPG has many advantages; it is clean as it burns efficiently without producing smoke; it is portable, safe and very efficient in generating energy.
However, the cost of the product is very high as compared to wood fuel or charcoal. In this connection it might be necessary for the government to take a second look at current price LPG. Most LPG stoves are of European design and, therefore, unsuitable for use in most Ghanaian homes where traditional rounded pots made of clay are most preferable.
Dr Stephen Duah-Yentumi, Sustainable Development Advisor, UNDP told participants at "Energy for Sustainable Development Workshop" that the Millennium Development Goals could not be met without major increase in the quality and quantity of energy service in developing countries. Professor Elizabeth Ardayfio-Schandorf, former Head of the Department of Geography and Resource Development, University of Ghana, at a workshop on energy recently, noted that one pressing area where billions of people appeared deprived was the area of access to energy. She said energy realities in Ghana were dominated by wood fuel at all levels, with only 1.1 per cent households using hydroelectric power as their source of energy.
The basic needs of about 86 per cent of Ghanaians in terms of energy are not currently being fulfilled, as 90 per cent of the population use wood fuel, making energy a resource and a complex driving force for all aspect of socio-economic development.
This assertion may be right, as energy services are essential for sustaining the livelihood of the poor. The Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) produces LPG locally to meet domestic demand and for export.
It would, therefore, be appropriate for TOR, the Oil Marketing Companies, retailers and transporters of LPG cylinders and accessories as well as manufacturers of the product to do their best to make it affordable for the poor.
It should also be made accessible at all time while safety standards must not be compromised.
The Energy Commission must also give operators and users legal backing by updating them with issues relating to LPG safety standards and regulations.
Prof. Ardayfio-Schandorf noted that one challenge the country was likely to face in the years ahead is how to supply alternative and efficient household and commercial energy at affordable prices to meet the development needs of the entire population.
"Whilst the industrialised countries, representing 20 per cent of the global population of one billion, consume 60 per cent of the total global energy supply, five billion people in the developing countries consume 40 per cent of the total energy supply.
"The two billion poorest population use only 0.2 energy per capita per annum whereas the billion richest population use almost 25 times more at five per capita annually," she added.
The zeal, therefore, for Ghana to increase access to global energy should be a national priority that will eventually sustain the seriously challenged ecology. 13 May 05