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Firewood, Forests, and Fringe Populations: A Socio-Economic Exploration of LPG Adoption in India

~Pakhi Das

​Credit: Sarika Ann Khanwilkar

The latest Voluntary National Review Report (VNR) 2020 of India states that India has fully adopted the SDG framework and has aligned its development priorities with the Global Goals and mentions that Government of India’s flagship program, Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) launched 2016 to combat the dependence on biomass for cooking, improving women’s health and empowerment has already achieved its target of enabling 80 million households to access LPG for cooking as of September 2019. However, multiple studies undertaken recently have discovered that while PMUY allowed for LPG access and affordability, the program did not monitor LPG use after adoption. In order to determine the impact of the PMUY for rural households, Sarika Khanwilkar (Columbia University and NCCI member) and other co-authors of a studied the socioeconomic and environmental drivers of cooking fuel choice and firewood collection in rural Indian households living near forests in the Central Indian Landscape. They specifically assessed the influence of LPG ownership over time on seasonal household firewood collection patterns.

4994 households across 500 forest-fringe, rural villages in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Chhattisgarh were surveyed to assess the social structure and economic activities of forest-dependent communities. The survey included queries on household demographics, socio-economic status, natural resource use, household energy uses, and perceptions of forest status.

Map of 500 survey villages, indicated as colored circles, cities with populations greater than 88,000 people, protected areas, and tree cover in the Central Indian Highlands Landscapes (CIHL).  A. The color of each village indicates the proportion of surveyed households which used (LPG) for cooking B. The color of each village indicates the first year in which LPG was used for cooking by households within that village.

​The analysis showed that that the use of LPG was strongly associated with the education, monthly household expenditure, and caste status. It was found that households belonging to the Scheduled Tribe designation had the lowest probability of using LPG, had adopted LPG most recently, and reported to spend the most time collecting firewood indicating multiple disparities in access to cleaner cooking between social groups and across wealth gaps.

Coefficient plots for Ordinary least squares regressions with District-level fixed effects. Regressions assessed the association between LPG ownership and time spent collecting firewood averaged across three seasons (summer, post-monsoon, and winter) and in monsoon. Households that do not own LPG was the baseline category for the covariates that categorize year of LPG ownership (2013 or before, 2014 or 2015, and 2016 or 2017). Points represent exponentiated coefficient estimates (percent change in time spent collecting firewood) and whiskers show 95% confidence intervals.

​Moreover, although all LPG users also reported to collecting and cooking with firewood, households with more years of cooking with LPG showed less firewood collection, suggesting a waning reliance on firewood for cooking. It was also found that although LPG ownership had increased in marginalized (Scheduled Caste – SC, Other Backward Castes – OBC , and Scheduled Tribes – ST) , less-formally educated, and poor households after PMUY, the likelihood of using LPG overall for cooking was significantly lower among SC, OBC, and ST households as compared to general caste households – essentially highlighting the disconnect between LPG ownership and LPG use. Providing stoves and connections might not be enough and the researchers suggest that targeted LPG subsidies or enhanced availability of LPG cylinder refills for specific groups and regions might be an avenue to alleviate the disparity between LPG ownership and use. The amount of LPG subsidy could be linked to the highest education level attained by the household head, caste status, or monthly expenditures. The paper also highlights the adoption of a multifaceted approach that includes generating employment options and providing education opportunities as these will – increase a household’s capacity to use LPG; potentially decrease firewood collection and have widespread benefits with human capital development and gender equality.

Original paper: Khanwilkar Sarika, Gould Carlos, DeFries Ruth, Habib Bilal and Urpelainen Johannes. 2021. “Firewood, forests, and fringe populations: Exploring the inequitable socioeconomic dimensions of Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) adoption in India.” Energy Research & Social Science. 75. 102012.doi: 10.1016/j.erss.2021.102012


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