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Amid Uganda’s Charcoal Ban, ‘Green’ Briquettes Offer a Lifeline

95% of Households in Uganda Rely on Either Wood or Charcoal as their Primary Energy Source for Cooking

Despite the ban, charcoal buiness is lucrative buisness to casual labourer in Apaa, northern Uganda. Credit. John Okot.
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FROM CHARCOAL TO BRIQUETTES

When President Yoweri Museveni announced a ban on charcoal in June this year Sharon Anena struggled to prepare full meals for her children.

For months, the 35-year-old barely cooked for her family due to the soaring charcoal  prices. Charcoal burners in northern Uganda, the hub of commercial charcoal production,  go through extra efforts to burn the lucrative wood fuel illegally despite the government ban.

“Sometimes I have to walk for hours every day to collect firewood so that I can cook,” says Anena, a single mother of four and a farmer, who lives in Koro, Omoro district. “This is hectic because I am used to cooking using charcoal but the prices are high which make it hard for me to cook for my kids”.

Amid Uganda’s Charcoal Ban, ‘Green’ Briquettes Offer a Lifeline
Charcoal burning in Angagura, Pader district, northern Uganda. Credit. John Okot.

Across sub Saharan Africa, 80% of households rely on wooden biomass yet overreliance has continue to accelerate deforestation resulting in disruption of rainfall cycles, experts say. In Africa, 3.9 million hectares of forest between 2010 and 2020, and as for Uganda, 122,000 hectares of trees is lost due to commercial charcoal banning, according to the Ministry of Water and Environment.

At the COP28, leaders from around the world declared their commitment to provide clean cooking energy by 2032 to nearly a billion people in Africa who still cook using firewood and other forms of biomass – which emit carbon into the atmosphere.

Yet experts say these carbon emissions can be minimized if countries invest in projects that aim to shift away from using biofuel in a traditional to a modern way.

“Currently 40 percent of biofuel is used in a traditional way and unfortunately a lot of it is unsustainably since it pollutes the environment,” said Christian Rakos, President of World Bioenergy Association. “ The solution is to transition to modern ways by transitioning biomass by drying and densification to make pallets”.

Indeed,  during the launch of Uganda’s energy Transition plan, Energy Minister, Ruth Nankabirwa said 95% of households in Uganda rely on either wood or charcoal as their primary energy source for cooking, creating environmental concerns.

High reliance on biomass, she added, is contributing to deforestation in many parts of Uganda adding that “millions of Ugandans are negatively affected each year by indoor pollution from cooking with biomass, which disproportionately impacts women and children”.

“Uganda aims to provides clean access to energy to everyone by  2040 access target through expanding hydro electricity power and investment in renewables,” she added

In September this year, Anena had about a community outreach session being conducted by  a team of agriculturalists from Gulu University were locals were being trained how to make environmentally friendly biomass briquettes made from drying and grinding garden wastes such as  peelings, ground nuts, saw dust, rice husks, corn cobs and this moulded using clay”.

“Now I can easily cook for my family,” she says “The briquettes is easy to uses  and it produces less smoke; she says

Dr. Francis Atube , a lecturer in the Department of Science Education – agriculture at Gulu University, who trains locals how to make ‘green charcoal,’ said that that a sack of the briquettes s able to last for more than a month in an urban household. Dr. Atube is currently coordinating the four-year project which is being implemented in the three districts of Gulu, Amuru and Adjumani is being funded by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) through the DANIDA Fellowship Center (DFC).

Amid Uganda’s Charcoal Ban, ‘Green’ Briquettes Offer a Lifeline
Dr. Atube holding some of the green briquettes. Courtersy photo

Unlike the usual black charcoal, Dr. Atube adds, “green charcoal is so clean that one does not have to worry about making their hands dirty after touching them. They have uniform shapes and are smooth on the outside, giving the hand a good feel”.

Another of its good qualities, he adds, is that it emits less smoke. This reduces the risk of inhaling smoke during cooking which is a health hazard causing respiratory problems.

“One does not require many pieces of the green charcoal to cook a meal. This reduces cooking time because it produces more heat than the black charcoal,” Dr. Atube says.

Jennifer Alimo, one of the few locals who have used the green charcoal, said it will improve lives because it has high calorific value, or that it burns longer, adding that it is also less costly and saves time.

“The charcoal reduces the smoke and other problems associated with wood fuel, such as eye irritation. We request them to start making more and selling to us,” she said.

He added they also intend to train refugees in camps since humanitarian organisations focus on donating food but many fail to equip them will skills on how to make eco friendly fuel for cooking.

‘This forces them to begin cutting down trees to cook.” He adds. ”We want to break this cycle”.

He also added that the project is in the final stages of conducting market research and receiving feedback from the communities and the different stakeholders.

This story was produced with assistance from MESHA and IDRC Eastern and Southern Africa Office for science journalists reporting on COP28.

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