“We have to plant trees, if not for anything for our future generation, our children will find a barren land if all we do is cut down the trees.” Acel Jackson a farmer in Palaro- Gulu explains as he shows us around his pine forest and newly portioned land for the Mahogany and Melania forest.
In Gulu district, it’s not be hard to notice several mini-forests of pine trees, eucalyptus, Melaina, Teak, and many other exotic trees. Areas of Laroo-pece, Layibi, Palaro, Awac, Bobi, have embraced tree planting incorporating both indigenous and exotic species. Many farmers in Gulu district have embraced tree planting and hope to make a trade out of it while conserving the environment.
Since the end of the war in northern Uganda in 2006, the region has suffered deforestation with major loss of tree cover due to various human activities that included but were not limited to human settlement. Acholi sub-region has witnessed rapid depletion of its forest cover, people who were used to hand-outs while in the camps now turned to charcoal burning for survival.
“When the war ended, people left IDP camps to come back to their land; this alone saw the cutting down of trees that had since grown during the war.” Willy Chowoo is a journalist with Our Trees, We Need Answers pressure group. “People were not prepared to return as they were used to being taken care of by various organizations.”
(Tree cover loss, 2000-2018 in hectares)
Biomass is the main source of energy in Uganda, contributing about 94% of all energy consumed. Of the total biomass consumed, wood fuel accounts for about 80%, charcoal 10%, and crop residues 4%. Charcoal is mainly consumed in urban areas while firewood is mostly used in rural areas. In the urban areas, 65.7% of the households use charcoal while 33.4% use firewood for cooking.
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the total nominal value of household consumption of firewood and charcoal increased from $17,000 in 2014 to $19,000 in 2018. Charcoal is the major source of fuel energy used for domestic cooking. It is also the most preferred due to its affordability, efficiency, and ease of transport.
As a result, many people consider charcoal a relatively modern fuel rather than a traditional one. Current figures (2011) indicate that charcoal consumption in Kampala is estimated at 205,852 tonnes per year with an increase of six percent annually while countrywide, charcoal consumption is put at 723,014 tonnes annually.
Summary of firewood, charcoal, and other fuels for household cooking in Uganda 2012-13 and 2016-17. Source: 2016-2017 Uganda National Household Survey.
Total percentage of biomass used.
With the war behind, the people that once feared the area started coming for timber and charcoal as an alternative to the deforested areas of Nakansongola, Hoima, and other parts of the northwestern region. The charcoal and timber business needed to continue and Gulu offered a booming opportunity. According to the Global Forest Watch Kilak and Nwoya were responsible for 77% of all tree cover loss between 2001 and 2020. Kilak had the most tree cover loss at 16.8kha compared to an average of 7.55kha.
(Percentage of deforestation in the different counties in Gulu.)
While Central Forest Reserves (CFRs) are still well protected, most of the deforestation takes place on public and private land. The high rate of deforestation and high charcoal consumption results in an accelerating discrepancy between demand and supply. The main source of wood (47%) for charcoal production in Uganda is from forests owned privately. Central forest reserves and on-farm trees contribute about 22% and 20% of the wood used for charcoal production respectively
(Time-lapse of deforestation in Gulu between 1996-2020.)
According to the National Forest Authority Report (NFA)-2015, Overall, the country has been losing on average 122,000 ha/year of forest every year from 1990-2015. The greatest loss in the country is estimated at 250,000 ha of forests annually according to its estimates for the period 2010-2015. Unfortunately, on average, only about 7,000 hectares of planted forests are established yearly in the last 15 years.
Sustainable Tree Plant Management as A Way Out.
As much as Gulu has suffered from massive deforestation, a few people of Gulu, have been practicing tree planting with the support of the National Forestry Authority and various organizations that support the fight against climate change. This saw an increase in tree cover in Gulu which faired far better than other areas of Mukono, Mubende, Mayuge, Kibale, and Kyenjojo. For Instance according to the global forest watch, in 2012 Gulu had a tree gain of 352 hectares equal to 0.51% of the country’s tree cover.
For many of the residents of Gulu that practice charcoal burning the excuse is the lack of alternative means of earning money. However, with tree planting hope is being restored for many that have taken on the trade.
“Planting trees is the new business, every place is now empty because our people do not know the value of trees. Many are selling off their trees not knowing that soon they will run out because they are not planting new ones to replace the old ones.” David Akuro-too explains as he takes us around his farm in Ongendo Parish in Palaro sub-county.
In 2013, Kijani Forestry in Gulu city a Non- Profit organization that looks at planting trees for sustainable charcoal started a nursery Hub on 400 acres of land to plant trees indigenous and fast-growing trees. The goal was to replace old-growth forests from being cut down for charcoal. Utilizing various, proven techniques and technologies they designed a new business model that looks at sustainable charcoal grown in an agroforestry ecosystem.
In the various sub-counties of Nwoya, Kilak, Palaro, Pece, one will find planted trees by the roads and within the villages. The people of Palaro county an area that has been deeply devastated by the rampant cutting down of trees have in partnership with organizations like Kijani Forestry and the National Forestry Authority taken up the initiative of growing fast-growing indigenous trees and exotic trees.
The trees take between 3-15 years depending on the species, with this they can grow as many trees as possible with no worry that they have a forest and no money. The National Forestry Authority is the supplier for most of the seedlings that the people in Gulu are using to re-grow the trees on the now empty lands that have been deforested.
Indigenous trees like the Muvule, Mahogany that are scarce are now being regrown in Gulu. Exotic species like Melaina and Teak have also been embraced particularly for their ability to grow within three years. Pines and Eucalyptus are now being grown in most parts of Gulu with Pece Prison having one of the largest planted forests with the Pine trees in the district.
Charcoal Burning and Firewood Plague in Gulu.
Photo courtesy: @Liam Taylor.
According to the UNDP, biomass is used in all sectors of the economy, close to 100% of rural households and 98% of urban households use biomass energy. By some estimates, 6 million tonnes of wood are annually transformed into 1.8 million tonnes of charcoal.
According to the National Charcoal Survey released by the Ministry of Energy in June 2016, the proportion of wood used for charcoal production from government forest reserves is only 16%. With on-farm trees, private forests, and other sources accounting for about 54%.
It notes that the central region and northern regions are the major sources of charcoal with the central region being the main source of charcoal supplied to Kampala (63.4%), followed by the northern region (21.8%). The leading supplier-districts of charcoal to Kampala comprise of Nakasongola, Nakaseke, Luwero, Kyakwanzi, Masindi, Kiboga, Gulu, Arua, Mukono, and Hoima.
Arthur Owor the founder of Our Trees We Need Answers also asserts that the people engaged in the business of charcoal burning and timber logs come from the central and other parts of the country.
“Most of the charcoal that you see on trucks is not for the market here in Gulu, it’s being felled to Kampala, very little is left to cater for the market here,” Arthur Explains. He adds that the people of Gulu are sadly at the end of the food chain and benefit as little as 60,000 Uganda shillings for a farm of trees yet they continue to sell off their forests to fight poverty the only resources they have at their disposal.
The charcoal burning business remains one of the lucrative trades in Uganda. It has been reported that in Uganda the charcoal sector earns $38m (sh144b) annually as the majority of the households depend on charcoal. With the demand only going higher there is an unsustainable practice like indiscriminate clearing of trees without planting new ones and as a consequence places like Gulu have had their land degraded and deforested.
Arthur Owor noted that the tree cover has been depleted to 2/3 of the forest cover in the Gulu district. For a district, that experiences an intensely hot season, marked by dust storms, and a rainy season where precipitation is sparse and uneven this only continues to look bad. Arthur Owor, a researcher at the Centre for African Studies says the figure means 80,000 hectares of forests are cleared annually for charcoal and timber, up from 50,000 in 2004.
Gulu initially had 371 sq. km of forest cover, but environmentalists now estimate the cover to be only 200 sq. km, a reduction they attribute to charcoal-burning, human settlement as well as the quest to open up cultivable lands. This has left the district susceptible to climate change impacts such as heatwaves, inconsistent seasons, which brings about the disruption of agriculture, and green gas effects due to prolonged drought.
Role of the media in sensitizing the masses on tree planting.
Journalists in Gulu have taken it upon themselves to educate and sensitize the masses on the dangers of charcoal burning. They have formed a pressure group dubbed ‘Our Trees We Need Answers’ through which they are fighting the war on deforestation due to charcoal burning.
“We were late when it came to curbing logging of trees, but for charcoal burning, we still have time to sensitize the masses about the importance of tree planting and preserving our indigenous trees. We cannot stop charcoal burning but we can teach our people about charcoal farming,” Arthur Owor the founder explains.
They have gone on to appear on various radio stations in the district and do awareness meetings in Nwoya, Palabek, and Palaro to educate the communities on why they shouldn’t cut down their trees for charcoal. In areas of Palaro and Nwoya, they have gone ahead to seize tree logs and burn charcoal of illegal producers and transporters. Most of these traders carry more charcoal than what they paid to transport.
“We now get tip-offs from the community on people carrying overloaded trucks of charcoal and even timber. We have also done our best in sensitizing the communities and we teach them what they stand to lose when they sell off their trees.” Arthur elaborates on what they do as a pressure group and the kind of impact their initiative has had on the people in the rural communities of Gulu.
Arthur and his team have gone ahead to partner with the police, district officials, and NGOs like Kijani Forestry to help support their campaign. They have gone to various villages in Gulu with these parties and educated the residents on the importance of preserving indigenous trees and encouraging them to stop selling off their trees. The partnerships with police have seen the remanding of charcoal burners to Prison for illegal charcoal burning.
Though there has been evidence-based success in this fight, their limitations to the campaign. The leaders from whom they expect support are playing double standards. These include local politicians and military people.
Improved Production Processes
Traditional earth kilns dominate the production of charcoal in Uganda. These include the Bus commonly known as the “Kinyankole” and the banda mostly known as “the Kasisira” earth kilns with an estimated wood to charcoal conversion efficiency between 10-15% maximum of the original mass.
Photo courtesy: Adam. A typical Traditional earth Kiln is used in burning charcoal.
In Gulu, traditional earth mound kilns are predominant and yet the shift to improved charcoal production kilns is majorly hindered by the producers’ ignorance of the available improved options.
Kijani Forestry introduced highly efficient kiln technology and production methodology to produce 80% more charcoal from the same amount of biomass than traditional methods. The Train and give free access to this technology to existing charcoal producers so they can reduce their fuelwood consumption while maintaining the same output. With a verification process, they can ensure any endangered species or non-shrub trees are not turned into charcoal
A community Solution: A sustainable business for Charcoal and Timber producers.
A Nursery hub at JC seedling nursery in Gulu.
In Pageya, Gulu, Longoya Council Dickson who has a degree in forestry decided to retire early to set up 130 hectares of trees. Planting over 144,000 seedlings, the forest now has 65,000 trees after removing poorly developed trees and others dying naturally. Langoya Dickson is now a proprietor of JC forestry from which he gets timber for his furniture and timber enterprise, a business he has been able to sustain for over 7 years and yet still protecting the environment.
He has a nursery bed system a quality seedling production that he started in 2006 from which he plants his trees. The nursery grows both indigenous and exotic trees that include, Pinus carribea, Tectona Grandis (Teak), Eucalyptus Camadulensis, improved oranges and mangoes, Mvule, Musizi, Mahogany, and Grevillea Robusta Trees.
JC forestry now supplies organizations like FAO, Ministry of Water & Environment, SPGS clients, and private tree farmers in the Districts of Gulu, Amuru, among others. He has been able to teach the people in the community how to plant trees and also donate tree seedlings to schools and community projects seeking to engage in tree planting. This has seen the growth of projects like Anyim Wa a youth-led organization that engages the Gulu community in tree planting. So far over Two million seedlings have been produced and distributed to tree farmers
Acel Jackson a farmer of citrus fruits in Palaro planted over 10,000 trees of Pine 7 years ago. In 2020 he planted Teak, Melaina, and Mahogany trees to cover the remaining space that was deforested for agricultural purposes. He has now created a nursery bed space on the other side of the farm, to be able to grow his seedlings while maintaining a small forest of over 100 Odugo and other indigenous trees. He hopes to start selling these trees to his community of Awich Village and encourage his kin to engage in tree planting.
Kijani forestry knowing that the backbone to the deforestation issue in Gulu is charcoal burning has gone ahead to introduce charcoal farming to local communities. They work through a nursery hub through which they educate the farmers on the production of sustainable fuelwood products. Permanent nurseries and training facilities have been established in rural communities of Gulu where they have set up many rural nurseries to grow seedlings and provide training to tree farmers.
So far they have worked with over 1,000 households to plant over 1.2 million trees and are looking to expand to 7,000 households in 2022. Farmers are provided with tools to reforest their degraded land and build capacity for long-term income and wealth generation employing long-term market access for fuelwood, fruit, timber, and improved crops.
(Audio on the importance of tree planting by Willy Chowoo.)
Role of Women in the fight against deforestation.
The growing charcoal business in Gulu is a majorly male-dominated occupation, with few women being at the forefront of the charcoal business. However, women are present throughout the value chain from production to transport, sale and retail.
Women are the major retailers and buyers of charcoal. They control what fuel energy is used and how much of it is consumed daily. Wise Women Uganda (Mon Ma Ryek), a community-based organization comprised of women healers in Gulu is using the indigenous knowledge of traditional healers as a way to restore and conserve the forest. With the largest native tree nursery in Uganda, they have planted over 40,000 native species with about 900 farmers and partner NGOs.
Nursery Bed of indigenous trees. Photo courtesy: Wise Women Gulu.
Women are the ones that tend the farms and hence play a role in deforesting the land. Therefore to restore the forests, they should be included in the forestry decision and implementing plans. They should be able to play a role as women in the design of forest landscape restoration and conservation efforts.
In Kenya, Women are leading innovations on how to use Less Wood for more Charcoal. This development goes to show that if women are included in developing forest restoration programs, there is bound to be tangible impact while minimizing the risks of failure that come with ignoring women’s needs and potential contribution.
Green Charcoal; A sustainable alternative.
Carbonized Briquettes; Photo Courtesy @Jjumba Martin
Tree planting is a song that has run for ages and will continue to run for as long as tree cutting is still rampant in Uganda. However, there is an alternative to firewood and charcoal, briquettes are made after converting discarded palm kernels, rice husks, coffee husks, maize cobs, and coconut shells into a replacement for both wood charcoal and firewood. Briquettes offer a better alternative to cutting down trees yet also ridding the environment of organic waste that is turned into charcoal.
Although their use is still very low, making briquettes is not new in Uganda. In Gulu however, Gulu University is taking a different approach. It intends to localize the entire process right from fabricating the machines to the production and consumption of the briquettes. This has opened up interdisciplinary research paths around briquettes with the view that they will be able to sell at the same price as wood charcoal or even cheaper to shift the demand and reduce the cutting down of trees.
“The research is intended to help us create a machine that can be replicated and used all over Gulu and beyond and have people produce their briquettes to intensify supply.” Says Dr. Collins
Okello, Dean, Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, Gulu University.
Green charcoal can be carbonated or non-carbonated. African Clean Energy has also come in to help the refugee settlement in Bidibidi and Gulu district by providing non-carbonated briquettes and cooking stoves that are fuel-saving regardless of whether one is using charcoal, wood, or briquettes. They look at having people stop cutting down trees for firewood and for those that use charcoal have a decrease in consumption.
“We cannot stop charcoal production, but using an ACE one stove we can slow down deforestation by having a person use less charcoal than what they would have used on a normal stove. Our briquettes last longer than firewood and charcoal thus offering a better and cheaper alternative.” Says Labongo Emmanuel the ACE Northern Regional Manager.