Energy access, ecosystems health and poverty are deeply linked in areas where there is a heavy reliance on traditional biomass fuels. Attempts to improve access to modern energy can benefit from exploring these links and interactions, particularly effects on ecosystem services on which communities rely.

An ecosystems services approach offers a useful alternative to socio-economic or techno-economic approaches to the study of linkages between energy access and poverty. It can be used to evaluate different resource management and energy access alternatives, but requires an interdisciplinary approach encompassing a variety of methods and tools.

The authors discuss three research methods that have been successfully applied in this area: demand-side surveys, supply and value chain analysis, and economic modelling of consumer choice. Brief mention is made of other complementary or supplementary methods.

The examples and approaches presented here emphasize fuelwood and wood-based charcoal, since these are the main traditional energy sources in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the same approaches can be applied to other fuels and systems. The case of ethanol for cooking is also included here so as to consider the role of liquid biofuels. Biogas is not included, since the requirements and conditions for its production and use are quite different.

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