Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 403–413 | Cite as

Evidence for ecological sustainability of fuelwood harvesting at a rural village in South Africa

  • Anthony Michael SwemmerEmail author
  • Mightyman Mashele
  • Patrick Dlondack Ndhlovu
Original Article


While the fuelwood crises predicted in the 1980s have not materialized, the potential for fuelwood demand to exceed supply remains for many rural areas, particularly in Africa where fuelwood is the primary source of domestic energy. The sustainability of fuelwood harvesting from a semi-arid savanna ecosystem was investigated at a rural village where shortages have been predicted. Repeated sampling over a period of 7 years revealed a stable supply of wood from harvesting areas. The number and thickness of stems harvested did not decline as expected, nor did the use of undesirable species. This is consistent with long-term changes in the structure of the woody layer of the harvesting area, where increases rather than decreases in plant density have occurred. The ability of local species to survive regular damage, coppice rapidly, and reproduce when still well below their adult sizes, together with social factors that limit the rate of harvesting, appears to have produced an ecologically sustainable harvesting system. However, the estimated biomass of fuelwood harvested was far below existing estimates of fuelwood consumption in the village, suggesting that fuelwood supply has not kept up with demand. Transformation of harvesting areas for housing and crop fields, rather than increasing demand, is the most likely cause of this.


Allometry Biomass Ecosystem services ILTER SAEON Savanna Socio-ecology Species composition Welverdiend 



The authors thank the community leaders and fuelwood harvesters from Welverdiend village for allowing this research to be conducted on their land and for discussions on fuelwood harvesting. This manuscript is dedicated to the late Mr. Patrick Ndhlovu, a dedicated researcher and father, whose passion for plants and animals was an inspiration to many others.

Funding information

Funding was provided by the Department of Science and Technology and National Research Foundation of South Africa.

Supplementary material

10113_2018_1402_MOESM1_ESM.docx (104 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 104 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SAEON Ndlovu NodeSouth African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON)Kruger National ParkSouth Africa

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