Uganda’s Black Gold

Photo credit: Kateregga Dennis 
Uganda’s growth in energy demand has been due to the rapid population growth and urbanisation though the supply has not had that corresponding growth. Filling the gap hydroelectricity has been the cheapest and convenient alternative and whose demand was estimated by Uganda’s National Development Plan to reach 35,000MW in 2015. Its high price and limited access has made wood fuel the largest source of energy in Uganda, about 95% Ugandan’s depend on wood and charcoal for cooking. Charcoal is reliable, accessible and convenient cooking source, with affordable and stable prices.

As commonly known as ‘Black Gold’ by many, households who are part of the value chain have had their socio – economic status up lifted. Traders who got their charcoal from Hoima Nakasongola, Luwero, Masindi, Kafu, Luwero and eastern Uganda have had the private and community forests cover depleted. The northern part of Uganda which had its forest flourish during the 2 decades of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conflict is on the reverse trend. Nwoya district best known for its thick forests has been a major target especially Langele village which has been baptised ‘charcoal factory’ lately. Lately there has been violence in Amuru district against non-residents who are engaged in the charcoal business.

According to the state of the environment report 2005 by Uganda National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) shows an increment in the rate of deforestation from 1.76% to 2.13% per annum. National Forest Authority (NFA) estimates that more than 73,000 hectares of private forests and 7,000 hectares of protected forest reserves are cleared annually for timber and charcoal.

Charcoal production is made possible by cutting naturally growing trees and undergoing a process called pyrolysis which involves heating wood in absence of oxygen; a mixture of liquid, gas and charcoal is produced. The above process takes about 7 to 12 days in traditional kilns, where 8 to 12 kgs of wood are used to produce 1 kg of charcoal. With the above inefficiency in the production and the growing usage of charcoal suggests that greenhouse gas emissions associated with charcoal could reach 15 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050 (Steenblik, 2006). Which will be released into the atmosphere leading to climate change. 

By Kateregga Dennis, BA(ECON), Dip. IEL 


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