Deforestation and Health: A Woman’s Perspective

Environment and climate changeGender equalityHealth

Notes to broadcasters

Deforestation and the resulting fuelwood shortage affects the lives of millions of people. People suffer in a variety of ways, some of which are not always visible. Women and children in particular spend hours of their life in search of fuel, often walking many kilometres each day.

This script illustrates some of the effects of deforestation on the health of women and their families.

A follow-up radio broadcast could include interviews with local women about the effect of environmental degradation on their lives. How does their situation today differ from earlier times? How do these changes relate to their daily lives – the way they farm, eat, and spend their time?




– farmer
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Just counting all the things a woman does in one day is tiring. If you actually have to do it all – washing, cooking, collecting water and wood, caring for children, tending livestock, and so on – it is exhausting. And every day, women depend on things that come from the land such as wood and water. If they cannot get these things easily, life is difficult.

When forests are cut down, when rivers and streams dry up or get polluted, and when soil is so poor that nothing will grow, women suffer.

Damage to the environment means there may be less firewood, water and food. Women have to work harder and travel further to find firewood and water they need. This affects the health of a woman and her family.

Firewood is one of the most important things needed by a woman to keep her household going. What happens in a woman’s life when trees are cut down and firewood is hard to find? Let’s find out from some women farmers. Our friend Mina is the first guest today. Here is her story.

Mina’s story

I use firewood for cooking. The wood used to come from the forests. But now the forests have disappeared. There are no trees close to my home. To find enough firewood I have to walk a long way – sometimes for hours. My feet ache. It is difficult for me to walk long distances and carry such heavy loads.

If my feet are really sore or I am too busy, I send my children to get wood. They get up early and go before school. I can see that on these days they have less energy and more problems with their school work.

These are some of the problems that I live with every day.


Deforestation touches families in many different ways. Our next guest, Gladys, has a different story.

Gladys’s story

Greetings to everyone in the audience. Here is my story. I have been watching the trees around my home disappear one by one, year after year. This means many things – fewer birds and animals, less water, and less firewood. Of course I need wood for cooking. So I have to prepare and use fuelwood wisely. To make better use of the firewood, I make sure it is very dry before I burn it. I put a cover on my cooking pot so that the food cooks faster. I prepare everything I need for cooking ahead of time and place the pot directly over the fire so that none of the heat is wasted. These things help me to save fuelwood.

Unfortunately, because firewood is scarce I cook fewer hot meals. Before the firewood shortage, I prepared two hot meals every day. Now, I cook only one. Sometimes we must eat cold food.

With fewer hot meals I see and feel a difference. My family is less healthy. We are missing important nutrients. My children have less energy and get sick more often. It is sad – but what choice do we have?


Our last guest, Alice, talks about some solutions she found to the problem of disappearing trees.

Alice’s story

My name is Alice. I have four young children and a teenage boy who works in the city. I make baskets and mats from dried leaves and twigs. I sell them at the market. This business provides extra money in the dry season.

I have to take a mule and walk for hours to find firewood. When there is not enough firewood my family suffers.

For many years I thought there was nothing that I could do. But one day I thought to myself, “Is there any reason why I can’t plant more trees in my garden, even though it is small?” I decided that there was no reason not to. I planted a row of trees around my garden – like a fence.

I planted fruit trees and fast-growing trees. I learned that trees in the garden do not interfere with my vegetables. I started planting trees four years ago. I now have fruit trees that provide tamarind, coconut, and mango. These foods give my children extra nutrients. I use the tree branches for firewood. I use leaves for livestock feed. I prune the trees and care for them in such a way that I get the most food, leaves and branches possible.


There are no simple answers to the problem of deforestation. But these stories show that women can find better ways to use and manage scarce firewood.

How are you managing?

Here are some ideas to help you save firewood.

  • Burn dry wood only. It burns hotter.
  • Cover the cooking pot – your food will cook faster.
  • Never leave a fire burning unattended without something cooking over it.
  • Prepare everything you need ahead of time so that the heat of the fire is never wasted.
  • Cook one large meal and divide it into two parts – one for the evening and one for breakfast the next day.
  • Plant multi-purpose trees or shrubs in your garden or wherever there is land available.


Contributed by: Belinda Bruce, DCFRN.

Reviewed by: Helen Hambly, Associate Officer, International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), The Hague, The Netherlands.

Information sources

  • Development, crises, and alternative visions: Third World Women’s Perspectives, Gita Sen and Caren Grown, 1987, 116 pages. Monthly Review Press, New York, New York, U.S.A.
  • Restoring the balance: women and forest resources, Robin Clarke, 32 pages. Forestry Department, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy, and the Swedish International Development Authority, Stockholm, Sweden.
  • Women’s work: Africa’s precious resource,” African Farmer, No. 7, September 1992, pages 17-27. The Hunger Project, New York, New York, U.S.A.
  • ILEIA Newsletter (1/92) Volume 8 March 1992, pages 4-10. Information Centre for Low-External-Input and Sustainable Agriculture, Leusden, Netherlands.

Further information

  • Forests, Trees, and People Programme (FTTP)
    c/o Forest Action Network
    P.O. Box 21428
    Nairobi, Kenya
  • Regional Direction
    Environmental Conservation
    Bellerive Foundation
    P.O. Box 42994
    Nairobi 720274
    Ngong Road
  • Kenya Energy and Environment Organizations
    P.O. Box 48197, Nairobi
    Nairobi 749747
    Mwanzi Road, Westlands


  • Forests, Trees, and People Programme
    c/o Regional Community Forestry Training Center
    Kasetsart University
    P.O. Box 1111
    Bangkok 10903, Thailand


  • Forests, Trees, and People Programme/NACARCE
    c/o North America & Caribbean Regional Center
    5400 Grosvenor Lane
    Bethesda, Maryland 20814, U.S.A.


  • Forests, Trees, and People Programme (FTTP)
    c/o The Senior Community Forestry Officer
    Forestry Policy and Planning division
    Forestry Department
    Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
    Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
    Rome 00100, Italy