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GREEN UGANDA: Firewood, charcoal burning up planet - Uganda Newswire

GREEN UGANDA: Firewood, charcoal burning up planet

It is estimated that 90% of households in Uganda derive their energy from firewood and charcoal. Much of this energy is used for cooking, with most rural households relying on firewood, while urban households depend on charcoal.

According to the World Bank Uganda Wood Overview Report 2019, domestic cooking consumes the largest share of wood (about 27 metric tonnes) annually, followed by industrial use estimated at 2.7 tonnes, while commercial consumption is estimated at 2.36 tonnes.

Ugandan institutions such as schools, prisons, the army, hospitals and small to medium enterprises like confectioneries and brick-making are also some of the ever-growing users of fuelwood.

Most of these institutions buy their wood from markets or traders with no regard to the source of the wood.

It is a common sight to see trucks entering urban centres carrying firewood, most of which has probably been harvested illegally from public forests, woodlands, riverine forests and farmers’ gardens.

Over the last two to three decades, the demand for fuelwood has been increasing due to growth in population, industrialisation and urbanisation.

How do we address deforestation?

According to the World Bank, the total demand for wood fuel is estimated to have increased by 9.1% between 2015-2019.

This has translated into massive acres of forests and woodlands being cleared for firewood and charcoal, especially in the cattle corridor districts of Nakasongola, Mubende, Luwero, Kyankwazi and Kiboga. Other areas include districts in West Nile, northern Uganda and Karamoja.

The situation has not been helped by the increasing demand in the region from countries such as Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan, as well as the influx of refugees in the country.

In areas prone to disasters such as Karamoja, charcoal burning has become one of the major backups during such periods of stress.

It is also important to note that fuelwood and charcoal have increasingly become profitable economic activities, sometimes involving cartels and supply centres in urban areas.


A number of factors are responsible for increased fuelwood-related deforestation:

• Poor methods of cooking, especially using three cooking stones: Most of the heat from the burnt firewood is lost through radiation, meaning more fuelwood is required to prepare a meal.

• Rudimentary methods of converting wood to charcoal: The traditional methods commonly used to produce charcoal have limited control on combustion and use wet instead of dried wood, resulting in only about 10-20% charcoal being recovered from the wood. This, coupled with the use of inefficient cooking stoves, means more wood is lost, resulting in massive clearing of forests and woodlands, more greenhouse emissions and climate change.

• Limited implementation of laws and policies that control the production, conversion and transportation of firewood and charcoal: Overlapping institutional mandates between the water and environment, energy as well as the local government ministries have not made licensing, sustainable production and utilisation any easy. For example, there is missing information on the source of the most charcoal or firewood transported to Kampala. Chances are that most of it is from massive clearing from the source, with limited capacities of the resource to regenerate.

• Limited awareness, access, adaptability, and attitude change on the use of alternative sources of cooking fuel such as biogas systems, use of briquettes and liquified petroleum gas.

• Clearing of land for crop-growing and opening grazing areas has been a big factor in the cattle corridor, with landowners interested in removing unpalatable species such as the thorny Acacia species to open up grass for grazing.

What we can do

To address the challenges of fuel-related deforestation, several interventions are possible

1. Raise the issue of cooking with untraceable wood (wood whose source is not known) so that consumers can demand that wood is supplied from sustainably managed sources

2. Develop mechanisms to encourage users of wood fuel such as schools to develop dedicated woodlots/ energy plantations, for their own supply of fuelwood. A number of tree species such as gmelina aborea, eucalyptus, neem and terminalia have been tested for site suitability in the different parts of Uganda and hold great promise.

3. Ensure improved technologies in charcoal production such as the use of modern kilns that increase the amount of charcoal produced from wood. Ensure use of improved technologies such as institutional cooking stoves that increase energy efficiency, cleanliness and health

4. Plant more trees than what is consumed and avoid harvesting natural forests for fuelwood

5. Switch to other alternative sources of cooking energy such as biogas systems, use of briquettes and liquified petroleum gas.

6. Increase utilisation and efficiency of agricultural and forest waste in fuel energy.

7. Ensure appropriate policy implementation, regulation and control of the fuelwood industry

8. Engaging cattle farmers to encourage minimum stock removals through optimal tree stocking and assisted regeneration

9. Increase tree growing on farmlands to address multiple needs on nutrition, soil improvement, shade and animal fodder.

Source: New Vision