Biomass Use in Burkina Faso

by Monkgogi Bonolo Otlhogile

Burkina Faso is a low-income country with a $1,399 GDP per capita (World Development Indicators, 2014). However, Burkina Faso has one of the highest GDP growth rates in Africa and its GDP has consistently grown by an average of over 7% over the past 10 years. Its small $10 billion economy has constrained infrastructure building and only 13% of Burkinabe households have access to electricity (World Development Indicators, 2012). However, what has really exacerbated the energy poverty is the fact that Burkina Faso has no traditional energy sources such as gas, oil, or coal and is totally energy-dependent, relying on imports from its West African neighbors. Therefore, a large proportion of Burkinabe households use biomass such as charcoal and wood for its energy uses.

With over 80% of Burkina Faso’s population dependent on biomass, the government has been actively working to move away from biomass and towards cleaner energy sources such as gas, kerosene and electricity (Thorsson et al., 2013). The government is invested in cleaner energy sources because of carbon monoxide pollution and the health risks it poses as well as the deforestation that has taken place in Burkina Faso as many rural households collect firewood from nearby forests. According to Thorsson and colleagues, the carbon monoxide concentration measured in Burkinabe firewood kitchens exceed the World Health Organization guidelines for carbon monoxide exposure and pose a threat to the health of Burkinabe women and children as they tend to be exposed to the smoke more than other members of the family. Though the government has recently begun a reforestation program, there is evidence to suggest that their biomass pricing policies have not been as successful (Ouedraogo, 2014). Ouedraogo argues that people continue to buy wood despite changes in its prices and/or the prices of other fuels (2014). The government has tried to use pricing and substitution policies to get households to buy LPG but the high cost of LPG equipment such as gas cylinders and gas stoves has prohibited many Burkinabe households from making the switch to cleaner LPG energy.

Despite recent economic growth, Burkina Faso remains one of the poorest countries in the world with a nominal GDP of just above $10 billion and a population of over 15 million people. Burkina Faso is a landlocked, arid, and energy-dependent country with no energy reserves of its own except for biomass, which represents over 80% of the country’s residential energy use. The majority of Burkina Faso’s households depend on biomass fuel, specifically wood and charcoal, for their cooking needs, which has been linked to deforestation, air pollution, and lung-related illnesses. Thorsson et al. (2014) investigated the effect that outdoor wood-fired kitchens have on women and children’s health in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The authors examined the cooking habits and health of 31 households through the use of structured interviews. They also measured carbon monoxide concentrations in eight kitchens with open and closed yards to assess the length and level of exposure. They found that carbon monoxide concentrations were relatively low during the day and peaked during the early evening, occasionally exceeding the World Health Organization’s guidelines. In addition, Thorsson et al. found that carbon monoxide concentrations were on average 43% higher in closed yard kitchens than in open yard kitchens. Coughing and eye irritation were reported by 30% of the households, suggesting that exposure to biomass smoke endangers the health of women and children in Burkina Faso. The authors suggest that biomass burning be restricted to daytime hours in well-ventilated areas to reduce pollution levels and reduce the risk of biomass smoke exposure for women and children.

Thorsson et al. studied the effects of wood-fired kitchens in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso by performing a field survey in April and May 2010, which included structured interviews, ambient and household carbon monoxide measurements, and classification of local weather. Thirty-one households with outdoor wood-fired kitchens in the Nongremassom district were selected in conjunction with local authorities. The authors asserted that the households were representative of the traditional cooking practices in Burkina Faso as they varied in size and cooking habits. To analyze the influence of kitchen structures on carbon monoxide concentrations, the authors examined 23 open yard kitchens and eight with closed yard kitchens (those that had walls or a roof). A structured interview was carried out with the person in charge of the cooking, usually an older woman. The interview consisted of questions about cooking habits such as the household’s primary energy source, fuel consumption, number of meals prepared over the open fire, and approximate cooking time. In addition the person was asked to self-report the health of the women and children of the household. To obtain data about household and ambient carbon monoxide concentrations, the authors used passive electrochemical sensors in eight outdoor wood-fired kitchens and at a reference station in the Nongremassom district. The sensors were placed at a height of 1.5 m and 1.5 m to the left or right of the fireplace to represent the breathing zone for women cooking near the fireplace. At the reference station, a sensor was placed on a pole, 1.5 m above the ground. Carbon monoxide was measured continuously at each household and station continuously for 4–6 days in each household and throughout the study at the station, with a time resolution of 1 minute. The station measurements were used to represent the urban background levels in Ouagadougou, which were used to adjust the measured kitchen carbon monoxide concentrations. This allowed the authors to compare carbon monoxide contributions from the wood-fired kitchens independently from, and in relation to, the ambient carbon monoxide levels. Meteorological data such as wind speed, wind direction, air temperature, air humidity, and long-wave, short wave incoming and outgoing radiation were also measured at the reference station. The meteorological data were used to classify the local weather conditions and to estimate the dispersion of air pollutants during the study.

Thorsson et al. found that the 31 household fuel costs ranged between 100 and 750 Fcfa, with an average of 326 Fcfa and a median of 250 Fcfa. In general, the higher the number of family members, the higher daily fuel cost and the higher the carbon monoxide exposure. Forty-five percent of the women spent less than 2 hours near the fireplace, 35% spent 2–4 hours and 19% spent more than 4 hours, with an average time of 2.7 hours. Sixty-five percent of the households cooked once a day, 26% cooked twice a day, and 10% cooked three or more times a day. During the day, the carbon monoxide concentration in the kitchens averaged 2.3 ppm, 2.5 times that at the reference station. At sunset, carbon monoxide concentration increased and peaked at an average of 3.6 ppm, between 6 and 9pm. Compared to the evening peak in the kitchen area, the peak at the urban background station was lower and delayed by an hour, suggesting that outdoor open wood fires were a significant source of ambient carbon monoxide in Ouagadougou. The authors argue that during the day, the weather conditions dispersed the carbon monoxide but during the evening when the air stabilized, the outdoor open wood fires contributed significantly to the high urban background levels. The authors found that closed yard kitchen structures increased carbon monoxide concentrations by an average of 43% during the day and 58% in the evening. Although 84% of the women reported that their health was excellent, very good or good, most of them reported one or more health symptoms among members of their household that can be linked to exposure to biomass smoke. Sixteen percent of the households reported health problems among women, 23% among children and 35% among both women and children. Thorsson and colleagues found that coughing and eye irritation/infections were common symptoms among both children and women. The authors found that the carbon monoxide concentrations never exceeded the WHO guidelines during the day but occasionally exceeded the 1-hour and 8-hour guidelines during the evening, suggesting that biomass smoke poses a serious threat to women’s and children’s health in Burkina Faso.

Thorsson and colleagues found that fuel costs could be used as simple proxy for assessing biomass smoke emissions and associated health risks as they found a positive correlation between fuel costs and carbon monoxide exposure. However, the authors suggest that a health risk assessment for women and children should utilize PM concentrations rather than just carbon monoxide concentrations as air pollution illnesses are caused by both PM fraction and irritant gases. Thorsson et al. argue that the high evening concentrations and the effects of closed yard kitchens need to be mitigated as they expose women and children to carbon monoxide at higher concentrations than the WHO guidelines and contribute to high urban background concentrations. The authors argue that household should try locate their kitchens in well-ventilated areas and should try to cook during the day when weather conditions aid in pollution dispersion in Ouagadougou.

Thorsson, S., Holmer, B., Andjelic, A., Lindén, J., Cimerman, S.,Barregard, L., 2014. Carbon Monoxide Concentrations in Outdoor Wood-Fired Kitchens in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso—Implications for Women’s and Children’s Health. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. 14 pages. doi: 10.1007/s10661-014-3712-y

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