Roots as Fuel

Article excerpt

Massive deforestation of the Third World clearly has a devastating effect on the global environment. But Eugene B. Shultz and Wayne G. Bragg of Washington University in St. Louis think that followers of the phenomenon may be "missing the trees for the forests."

The immediate impact of deforestation is felt by the nearly 60% of the Third World's population that still cooks food on a three-stone fireplace or a similar device. Many spend the equivalent of one day a week roaming the countryside in pursuit of an ever dwindling supply of one of their most basic necessities: cooking fuel. But scientists have discovered that the roots of a common gourd make a useful cooking fuel that could be used in countries suffering the effects of deforestation.

"We have discovered that the roots of various common squashes and gourds, when dried in the sun over a period of several days, make a very acceptable cooking fuel for people in the Third World," says Shultz, a professor of engineering and applied science. "The development of plants for fuel rootfuel, we call it - and other novel biological resources could revitalize what have become decimated rural areas in the Third World and could give reforested areas the decades they need for regrowth."

The scientists are urging people in the arid, deforested areas where the rootfuel crops grow wild to use the readily available resource, sparing dwindling forests. Eventually, the roots might be cultivated on poor or marginal sod where the plants would not compete with food crops.

Shultz and Bragg, who conducted "taste tests" of rootfuel-cooked food in Mexico, Senegal, and Niger, were concerned that undesirable flavors would be passed on to food from open-fire cooking, but aU participants found rootfuel a good option. …