top of page

LPG for Chai - Firewood for Food: Women’s Reality of Cooking as the World Marches Towards Green Energy

Woman sorting out firewood and dried leaves for cooking fuel

“We have the right to collect firewood. We need both LPG and firewood for cooking,” share the women of adivasi communities in the erstwhile Adilabad district of Telangana which is home to many indigenous communities.

In Pittaguda, for instance, a small village consisting of 12 households of the particularly vulnerable tribal group Kolam, there are only four families with LPG connection. While four others use cow dung cakes for fuel and the rest depend solely on firewood for their energy needs for cooking. Affordability is a major challenge as households with LPG connection have large families that the subsidised gas cylinder cannot sufficiently cater to as they spend Rs. 1500 inclusive of additional transport and maintenance expenditure. While some families use cow dung cakes for fuel, they do not find it efficient as it burns soon, making firewood the more preferred alternative. They feel what works best for them is a combination of firewood and LPG.

However, criminalisation of firewood collection has led to prohibition and threats from the forest guards as women venture into the forest to collect fallen and dried twigs and branches for firewood. They share that apart from these threats, they are made to pay heavy fines for firewood collection in the forests despite their minimal role in the burning of fossil fuel, thereby also undermining their historical symbiotic relationship of coexistence with the forest.


Abandoned bridge amid a kucchha road in Utnoor mandal

Welfare schemes that are aimed at providing clean cooking fuels like LPG to rural and deprived households also fall far short of the real time energy needs of women in remote tribal villages that have added constraints of accessibility, transport and affordability. In interior villages with poor roads and fewer transport options, the onus of carrying the cylinder from the gas agency to their homes is on them as against doorstep delivery in urban and more accessible rural areas. Not only is it an added constraint to aged and single women-run households due to lack of skills and private vehicles to fetch the cylinders, but it is also hazardous for men who carry them on their motorbikes in the rocky kuccha roads that are almost non-existent during the monsoons. This is a major challenge even in tribal villages relatively closer to the mandal headquarters like the village Umapatikuntha belonging to the Gond community in Adilabad.


Maize being stored over the heat of the traditional stove

For most women, depending on firewood is their only means of survival. Using LPG is for the occasional chai making for visitors or on those rainy days when firewood collection is difficult. Otherwise, their core cooking is done with firewood.

It is hence imperative that energy finance allocations of the government first put poor women’s cooking needs as the foremost priority before all other commercial consumption needs of green energy, in the march towards a green and sustainable economy. It is also imperative that the government recognizes women’s consumption of firewood for their basic domestic needs is also a green and sustainable form of energy use and criminalising it is a violation of women’s rights. Giving women multiple and accessible energy resource choices for performing their daily functions while sustaining their health and the health of their eco-systems is dependent on political will and investments on women’s energy needs.

Firewood collection is also intertwined with the community’s traditional knowledge on which plant species are most effective as fuels and signal towards forests that are getting farther away from them and trees that are on the verge of extinction. The villagers also remind us that their firewood needs are not limited to cooking. Not only does the fire keep them (and their animals) warm in chilling winters but also helps in drying seeds, controlling insects and pests in their homes and in providing light in the evenings. The charcoal is then used in brushing their teeth and the ash is used in cleaning utensils and clothes as a natural detergent- waste to use activities we would call ‘upcycling’ and ‘recycling’ in our modern terms. Firewood is also essential for rituals and festivities that LPG cannot replace.


Women sitting around the hearth using firewood for warmth

Adivasi women demand that their firewood needs for preserving their culture and sustainable traditional practices that make use of all aspects of the wood be recognised as a right, especially when women collect only fallen twigs, have a rich knowledge of firewood species and have the daily need to conserve these species.

Both the right to collect firewood and the entitlements to LPG at affordable, accessible and consistent spells for rural and tribal women is hence, an urgent need and demand by women. Because for women, cooking is a daily reality that involves burdensome labour in a highly patriarchal social demarcation of performative roles. The transition to clean energy in addressing climate change and achieving energy equity will only be complete if sustainable practices of women in the grassroots are recognised and state investments and schemes for green solutions are not an ad hoc or scattered in approach but a focussed and prioritized intervention of energy equity.

Comments


Subscribe to our mailing list to get the latest updates!

Thanks for subscribing!

bottom of page