I participated in the sad demise and funeral of our beloved grandmother in my extended family. I was deeply shocked to see that there was no wood available for making a funeral pyre. It is a very touchy and emotional matter to discuss, but what I witnessed was the worst possible solution to this problem. Cow dung cakes were being used to make the funeral pyre.
The use of wood fuel is not a better solution but if wood is used it can be regenerated - the soil is always there to support the regeneration and growth of biomass - but if the upper soil crust of the earth is gone where will the biodiversity come from? Soils of temperate regions are rich in organic matter which amounts to up to 2 percent of the soil composition. In the desert soils the organic matter is already as low as 0.01 to 0.03 percent.
This much humus is bare minimum for binding the soil particles together and make any nutrients available to the plants. Desert regions have very fragile ecosystem and any loss of soil structure leads to soil erosion and creation of sand dunes due to wind blown sands. Recycling of organic matter is one important component for the survival of sustainable plant growth and regeneration, as it's the colloidal form which makes nutrients available to the plants. Plants can not utilize the minerals from the soil as they may be in bind form and certain level of microbial interaction is essential for support system for plant life and survival and regeneration.
The burning of cow dung cakes for cooking in household instead of using it for making FYM was already hampering carbon recycling in the developing world . However, this new found use of cow dung cakes is more damaging as huge quantities are required.
If the organic matter is being burnt like this ( earlier I reported burning of wheat and mustard straw being used for brick making in kilns), the time is not far off when soil of semi-arid and arid regions will become totally non-fertile and soil erosion will reduce productivity also.
The possible solutions could be use of wood pellets made from agricultural wastes, straw being being compacted, using gasifiers and pyrolysis as possible alternatives for fuel efficient utilization of biomass and allow sustainable development in fragile ecosystems.