Investing in and understanding communities that live in and around central India's forests are important for creating a future where people and wildlife can coexist. As apart of Sarika's PhD work, she published her first, first-author peer review paper entitled Firewood, forests, and fringe populations: Exploring the inequitable socioeconomic dimensions of Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) adoption in India in the journal of Energy Research and Social Science.
Firewood is the primary cooking fuel for many households in central India. This can be problematic because of the household air pollution caused by burning firewood indoors and burdens women and children in particular, who are in charge of cooking and collecting firewood. Finally, firewood collection can be a dangerous task when entering forests with wild animals such as tigers or leopards, and impacts forest health. The government has provided LPG to poor households since 2016, through a program called Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yoyjana, which is meant to address some of the health impacts of using firewood for cooking.
Sarika, along with her co-authors, used social survey data collected in 2018 from 4,994 households living within 500 villages living in forested regions of central India, along with a satellite-derived measure of forest availability to investigate cooking fuel use. They documented LPG adoption, the timing of this adoption, pre or post-2016, and patterns of firewood collection. The probability of cooking with LPG was lowest for marginalized social groups. Households recently adopting LPG, likely through the government scheme, were poorer, more socially marginalized, less educated, and have more forest available nearby than their early adopter counterparts. While 90% of LPG-using households continue to use firewood, households that have owned LPG for more years report spending less time collecting firewood, indicating a waning reliance on firewood over time. Policies targeting communities with marginalized social groups living near forest can further accelerate LPG adoption and displace firewood use. Despite overall growth in LPG use, disparities in access to clean cooking fuels remain between socioeconomic groups in India.
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