Saving our barbecues

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Saturday, August 31, 2013


MANY Cebuanos like “sinugba,” grilled to a crunchy crisp on charcoal. Yet, few of us ask: Where did this wood fuel come from? Will there be enough tomorrow?

At a University of San Carlos research forum, Dr. Elizabeth Remedio presented a 20-year comparative study of wood fuel, gleaned from 417 households here: 49 in central business barangays and eight in city hilly lands.

Cebuano households mirror a nationwide pattern: Almost half of households cook by burning wood and other biomass like coconut fronds and bamboo. This is a province that has to re-green forests cut to less than two percent. Severe soil erosion blights upland areas.

The city has spilled beyond legal borders sprawling from Danao in the north to Carcar in the south. “Keeping track …takes on urgency,” says Dr. Remedio. We don’t know the implications of spiraling wood fuel demand and supply.

Dr. Remedio did her first study on Cebu from September 1991 to March 1993 for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.

Population then topped 650,000. Today, Cebu City’s population exceeds 866,511--and climbing.

Then and now, wood fuel use for cooking remains widespread. Nine out of ten rural families burn wood fuel. It is about 60 percent in urban households. Income alters the fuel mix. Majority or 75 percent cooked with wood. The upper class burnt LPG, with charcoal as supplement.

“Strong taste preferences for food cooked with wood fuels, combined with economic considerations, prevent more widespread use of LPG,” she wrote. There’s your “sinugba.” It is “an important factor in continued strong residential demand for wood and charcoal.

Cost is a major factor. Close to half of households “freely collect some or all of the wood they use.” That’s usually construction waste and scrap wood. These households used, on average, 303 kg. in wood fuel.

Charcoal accounted for 65 kg. Overall, annual wood fuel consumption in the city was equivalent to around 220,000 barrels of oil then.

An additional factor is the tendency towards increased household purchases of pre-cooked meals peddled by neighborhood food vendors and eateries. Low-income households purchase pre-cooked foods far more frequently.

Food vendors are highly reliant on wood fuels. Wood fuel-using businesses and institutions account for 37 percent of wood and 49 percent of the charcoal consumed annually in Cebu City. These include a variety of industrial firms, including manufacturers of rattan furniture and fashion accessories.

In 2013, wood and charcoal were used by almost two-third of all low-income families in Cebu. Liquefied petroleum gas takes over as dominant fuel as houses move away from, say, Pasil to Maria Luisa subdivision.

However, a “pronounced majority”-–or nine out of ten households--still burn wood and charcoal as “secondary cooking fuel. Low cost is the main reason for this decision. “Inconveniences associated with the presence of smoke, greater need for monitoring and dirty operations” turn off many housewives.

Private groups, like Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc, have set the pace for re-greening of Cebu. It’s native tree nursery, for example, houses up to 100,000 seedlings of about 140 native tree species and vetiver grass.

It just published a book that documents native tree species in the Visayas. In his book on 10 years of Cebu’s fuel wood issue, Dr. Terence Bencel argues: tree planting and management have spread. “Commercial demand for wood fuel and products is” a main factor driving increased reforestation on the island.”

Enough to save our “sinugba”?

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 01, 2013.

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