Charcoal burning is the major source of fuel energy in Uganda mostly used for domestic cooking and boiling water. It is one of the most important activities practiced by many people in Gulu and Uganda for sustainable energy consumption. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (2019), the total nominal value of household consumption of firewood and charcoal increased from $17,000 in 2014 to $19,000 in 2018.

Charcoal is one of the key commodities in Uganda since a third of the population relies on it for fuel consumption. But its production contributes to deforestation. From 2001 to 2020, Gulu district in northern Uganda lost 37.7 kilos hectares of tree cover, equivalent to a 6.1 percent decrease in tree cover since 2000, and 12.4 megatonnes increase in Carbon dioxide emissions, according to Global Forest Watch. People prefer charcoal for fuel because it is affordable and reliable, accessible to both low, middle, and high-income earners.

A 2020 research on charcoal and wood biomass utilization in Uganda by D.Bamwesigye. P.Kupec, G.Chekuimo, J.Pavlis- Sustainability states that there are many people in rural areas of Uganda in all households who use firewood or charcoal for cooking their meals and boiling water for family use. More trees are cut down for charcoal production purposes, which leads to deforestation causing climate change impacts such as flooding which brings about soil erosion, an increase in greenhouse gas emissions due to prolonged drought, and global warming.

According to a 2018 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, there are more than 16 million tonnes of wood that are annually transformed into 1.8 million tonnes of charcoal. The production is destructive as nearly 500,000 acres of land per year are cut as charcoal producers harvest whole trees from indigenous forests. They believe that the bigger the logs, the bigger the charcoal.

Fighting deforestation through fast tree planting for charcoal.

 In an effort to address these problems, Kijani Forestry is a social enterprise with headquarters in Gulu, Uganda dedicated to combating deforestation by facilitating climate-smart agricultural practices that empower farmers for local economic development. It uses a “Nursery Hub” model to provide social solutions by establishing many rural nurseries to grow seedlings.

Kijani Forestry sits on 400 acres of land, located in the outskirts of the Gulu district along Kitgum road. The forestry farm is dedicated to combating deforestation through sustainable fast tree planting in over 13 districts in Uganda.

Forests provide many social, economic, and environmental benefits. They provide an important defense against climate change in that they facilitate photosynthesis which produces oxygen and consumes huge amounts of carbon dioxide.  The farm works with rural farmers and communities to address deforestation through sustainable charcoal production.

Kijani Forestry plants endemic, fast-growing trees that increase soil quality and regrow from existing root structures when harvested for charcoal production. They provide farmers with woodlot seedlings of indigenous,  fast-growing trees such as musizi, acacia, and many more to preserve native forests from being clear-cut.

The farmers and the communities produce charcoal using inexpensive,high-efficiency kilns which create more charcoal for the community from trees that regenerate in the same root structure after being harvested.

Mr. Quinn Neely, the CEO of Kijani Forestry, reveals that they train farmers and rural communities on how they can produce these seedlings in their communities instead of trying to get them from indigenous trees.

He further reveals that each farmer plants 1,000 tree seedlings per acre which are fast-growing and conservable, with trees that are cut for charcoal regenerate and re-grow very fast, up to  7 meters in a year.

Akello Rose,  the farm supervisor, and nursery seedling attendant,  explains how the farm has four different departments that function separately but are interdependent on each other and the different tree species they plant.

According to Quinn, the Kijani Forestry model helps communities avoid having to cut down indigenous trees for charcoal production because the farm and farmers are planting their own tree seedlings which are fast-growing.

“ We provide seedlings to the communities without them buying, and when the trees manure in a period of 3 years, they cut them for charcoal production, which we again buy from them thus a source of income.”

He further added that this year 2021, they have managed to plant more than 1.3 million trees with these farmers and communities through this, they are able to sustainably produce charcoal without cutting the indigenous trees.

Why Gulu?

Quinn says the project was started in Gulu to stop deforestation in Gulu and neighboring districts through sustainable Charcoal production, at the same time generating income for the people in the community and protecting the indigenous trees.

“If you plant densely enough, even if we are harvesting on a three-year rotation, trees actually do bring rain, so we can help stabilize the rain patterns. And it would just be really cool to someday say that we actually ‘make it rain,” he said.

He adds that they care deeply about the community, and if they are able to provide economic empowerment, maybe it will not be the farmers they are working with now, but their kids will enjoy permanent, long-term effects on their communities, country, and the world.

In the urge to fight deforestation through sustainable charcoal consumption, The Gulu Peace Gardens projects are raising indigenous tree seedlings to communities and farmers.

Located in the heart of Gulu town,  founded in 2013. Gulu Peace Gardens creates a positive environment through the growing of seedlings which are being planted by various communities and farmers.

Opio Godfrey, a farmer who benefits from Kijani Forestry says that he is able to protect his shea nut trees from charcoal burning, and use other trees for charcoal which he thinks is a good thing for the environment.

“I get tree seedlings from Kijani  Forestry which I then plant. When the trees are ready in about 3 years, I cut them down and burn charcoal. I sell the charcoal at the same time we weed the tree stems,” he said.

Jimmy Owuna, the regional Range Manager National Forestry Authority Acholi region, says that the Authority is enforcing laws to protect against illegal cutting of the indigenous forests.

Watch a documentary on how tree planting is a solution to climate  change


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