Human and physical energy cycles in a subsistence village in South Africa


  • Winnie Chikava University of Cape Town
  • Harold J. Annegarn



conceptual energy model, electronic pedometer, energy intake, energy expenditure, rural subsistence village, Venda


A rural, self-contained village in Africa relies mainly on draft animals, energy provided by humans and energy from natural resources, especially firewood, for survival. The human metabolic energy cycle in a rural self-sufficient village in Venda in the Limpopo Province of South Africa is investigated, concentrating on selected activities that make up the routine livelihoods in the wet season. The selected village depended on only a slight extent on external ‘modern’ energy inputs such as electricity, paraffin and diesel in relation to overall energy consumption. Forty-three interviews were conducted in order to identify patterns of labour, sources of food, and foods consumed, while electronic pedometers were employed to quantify energy expended for weeding, firewood and water collection carried out in the wet season in February. A conceptual energy model showing flows of energy from one activity to another within the village was developed. An energy balance model, for an average adult male and female village resident, was developed quantitatively from the conceptual model, taking into account energy intake and energy expenditure. Energy expenditure for males was 1 991 kcal/d; females were 1 965 kcal/d, energy intake for males was 1 953 kcal/d and females was 2 007 kcal/d .This study is significant for future development of rural dwellers. It provides a baseline case for future developments in which modern energy carriers are introduced into remote areas. These may include conventional energy such as electricity, or renewable energies such as low energy devices powered off solar photovoltaic panels or off grid solar/wind systems.


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Author Biography

Winnie Chikava, University of Cape Town

Energy Research Centre Snr Research Officer




How to Cite

Chikava, W., & Annegarn, H. J. (2013). Human and physical energy cycles in a subsistence village in South Africa. Journal of Energy in Southern Africa, 24(2), 67–76.