By Felix Warom
Arua. Women and men who cook in many households ideally love using charcoal because the fires are expedient and very easy to manage because it works faster.
But unlike the wood fire which requires consistent devotion during cooking to avoid burning out, a charcoal fire is gentle, very effective and needs no regular checkups.
But now charcoal burning both for commercial and domestic purpose is no more as ‘former’ dealers are left grinding their teeth as charcoal is turned out to be their enemy even for the housewives.
Before the ban by Arua district council, people made fortunes out of the sale of charcoal as it was a main source of income. The high demand for the charcoal that was sold at Shs 28,000 a sack rendered the trees to be depleted at will.
A woman and a man cooking using firewood at Manibe near the airfield in North Western district of Arua. Photos by Felix Warom
Right now, the forest covers in the district is wanting as people indiscriminately cut down the trees as wood fuel and charcoal.
Even charcoal dealers knew it was something that could one day be stopped due to the depletion. A decision had to be made with an ordinance in place.
Last month, when the ban was enforced, as one drives from the busy Arua town through Bondo, Arivu, Offaka, Ullepi and Madi Okollo on the Kampala highway, hardly a sack of charcoal can be seen by the road sides for sale.
A 48 year-old, Mr Celestine Adriko, a Charcoal dealer, said he has now been cut off from the economic activity that made him pay school fees for his three children, fended for the family from charcoal for about 15 years now.
“This law is a big blow to me because I entirely depended on charcoal burning for the family. But also it is true that the huge trees we used to have about 20 years ago are gone and we have remained with small one,” he said.
A young man cooking using charcoal stove in Nebbi district.
The forestry department seeks to regulate an industry that has largely been viewed as illegal and promote it as a sustainable enterprise. Charcoal is an all season business for people to make money all the time.
Already, several families that have been cut off from the business are looking for alternative source of income. But Ms Jane Adiru, a family head in Offaka village, says the urbanization and abundant market demand forced many people to go in for charcoal business.
“Some of my neighbours looked at charcoal business as a source of poverty alleviation yet they were not replacing the trees they cut. Even with this enforcement, people here cannot afford to buy gas cookers because power supply connection is not to all households and connection to it is expensive. I believe this ban may also fail soon,” she said.
The ban effect
Since the ban, charcoal price has risen from Shs 28,000 to Shs 48, 000 and this has become unaffordable and scarce for people to find. In fact burning has become an addiction. Without wood and charcoal, thousands of the locals in Arua would be unable to afford the energy they need for cooking and heating.
A man demonstrates how to use charcoal stove while using firewood in Arua
Electricity supply is still very poor and unavailable to many parts of the rural and urban areas. As the population continues to grow and more people migrate to cities and towns, the demand for energy is expected to rise.
Effect of population
The 1991 national population census estimated the population of the district at about 368,200. In 2002, the national population census gave a population estimate of 559,100, with an annual growth rate of 4 percent. In 2012, the population of Arua was estimated at 776,700.
Therefore more trees will be cut down to produce the wood and charcoal to satisfy the abounding demand for energy. Because charcoal is much lighter in weight than firewood, it is cheaper and economical to transport over longer distances.
About 48 percent of people here currently live below the poverty line and many of these people can afford electricity, kerosene or cooking gas to prepare the food they need to survive.
Ms Dora Anguko, a local in Arua town says she sells about 10 bags of charcoal on a good day, making her fetch about Shs 280,000. According to her calculations, she could make about Shs 1.2 million in a good month.
Some of the charcoal impounded as part of the ban exercise in Arua. Photo by Felix Warom
This makes her earn more than what civil servants here get as salary because of the little tax she pays and she got addicted to the business. “It is a good business because whether it is during rainy or dry season, I am able to make money. But now this is no more,” she said.
The aftermath of the business may be horrid–forests will become deserts and lots of tree and animal species may be lost forever.
The district Councilor for Arua Hill Division, Mr Swaleh Buga, told Daily Monitor that: “The enforcement has gaps like there is no clear provision of what alternative source of energy or income people would be using. Although this is a good move to preserve the forests, the enforcement has been rushed into without tightening the loopholes because we have seen some people transport charcoal at night.”
In 2013, about 41 farmers were trained on new technologies of producing energy through briquettes. The official from Uganda National Council for Science Technology, Mr John Senyonga, said one begins by organizing the trash left from the cultivable land like shrubs, maize, beans, and sorghum stocks or any other agricultural material left over after harvest.
A trainer explains how the Briquettes work in Arua. Photo by Aluma Aribo
He said the material is cut down into pieces, dried and then loaded into the carbonizer and burnt (a drum with limited holes in it).
“A black material called the char powder is the got out of the burnt material. This powder is then processed with hands with any material which contains starch in it, the starch acts as a binder,” he said.
The district has a total of 39, 579 ha of land under forestry. There are 37 reserves. Most of these are small sized except those found in Luku, Laura and Iyi on the Vurra-Madi boarder each of which is larger than 2,500 ha. According to the Forest Department, pole and fuel-wood plantation cover 1,574 ha while natural woodland reserve is 38, 005 ha.
Men selling charcoal by the roadside before the ban.
The District Environment Officer, Mr Joachim Andiandu, said the development will give a relief to the already depleted forests in the district. “We have tempered with our trees to the extent that we do not have fire wood for cooking and the only available charcoal is very expensive which you cannot afford,” Andiandu said.
Briquettes are a source of fuel made by solidifying biomass waste products, such as sawdust, coffee husks. And one can earn over Shs 200,000 from monthly sales. Most wood is used by secondary schools for cooking.
According to the biomass studies (1993) current demand for woodfuel exceeds supply by 17 percent. People now travel long distances in search for woodfuel and /or use agricultural residues to meet their immediate fuel needs in Arua district.
A truck carries charcoal and firewood in Arua town.
This practice together with burning as a means locally used for pasture regeneration have drastically reduced ground cover. The aggregate effect of all these is ecological deterioration.
In 2011, the district passed a food and nutrition ordinance which also seeks to regulate the rampant cutting down of trees. But the law has remained without implementation since some of the leaders to enforce the law are also involved heavily in the charcoal business as a source of income generating activity.
But now the forestry officer, Mr Edison Aderibo, said under the current regulation, it will also promote the best tree species for charcoal production and efficient technologies, including high carbonisation rate kilns for production.
The coming into effect of the new rules has dislocated supply in urban areas as the police have augmented surveillance and crack down on producers and transporters who do not have valid permits.
But the policemen who are enforcing the ban park their cars by the roadsides at night loading sacks of charcoal for their families especially around Madi Okollo.
This has wielded pressure on household budgets of middle and low income families who rely on the fuel for cooking. The impounded charcoal was then auctioned last week but authorities could not readily provide the revenue accrued from the auction.
A woman selling charcoal in Arua town for her livelihood. Photo by Felix Warom
Besides the charcoal sale, there is a stimulating and nascent market for energy-efficient stoves which burn less charcoal and produce more heat.
Equated to traditional charcoal stoves which have been used in Africa for decades, improved stoves make charcoal to burn more efficiently with less smoke.
The 2011 Arua district ordinance on Food Security and Nutrition provides in section 17 (2) that: Charcoal burners and wood fuel producers shall be bound to plant trees as per provisions of the Forest and Tree Planting Act, 2003.
The ordinance does not provide for any penalty or fine for transporters and charcoal dealers creating a loophole in the implementation.
The Forestry Act makes provision for the protection and conservation of forest biological resources and the declaration of reserved or protected tree species; protection of forest reserves against human activities; inventory of forests; tree planting and growing; forestry licences; trade in forest produce; administration of forest resources; the establishment of the National Forestry Authority as a body corporate and regulation-making powers of the Minister.
And the adage that when France coughs other countries catches cold. And so when Arua banned charcoal sale, the control measures have also been adopted in neighboring Yumbe district. The council passed resolution that any person who violates the resolution be punished heavily and vehicle is impounded with the charcoal License be given only to those who transport charcoal on bicycle. And that the charcoal produced is used locally within Yumbe and there should be campaign on tree planting.
Some of the men selling charcoal by the roadside confronted by officials of National Forest Authority.
In Yumbe, a sack of charcoal costs Shs 13,000 and a vehicle that transports charcoal in bulk is charged Shs 120,000 Shs 140,000 per trip. State of the World’s Forests 2016 report by Food and Agricultural Organisation shows that some countries in the world have been able to reconcile the aspirations of the different sectors, increasing the agricultural productivity and food security of their populations while also halting and even reversing deforestation.
It recommends that by 2020, there is need to promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally.
As pressure mounts on the household budgets, politicians not wanting to lose their votes in the coming five years and poor enforcement with loopholes, how long will the sustainability of the ban be?1024