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Two year old Oduku indigenous tree, good for charcoal, growing wild in northern Uganda

GULU-UGANDA: Pressure is mounting on charcoal producers in Northern Uganda to change the way they produce the “black Gold” in tropical rain forests of the region to favour sustainable utilization of the environment.

Under the Joint Acholi Sub Regional Leaders’ Forum (JASLF), the Northern Uganda region leaders are determined to break the vicious cycle of the massive environmental degradation taking place in the region.

Top of their agenda is to empower communities to take over the charcoal business from invasive traders originating from other parts of the country accused of disregarding environmental protection in the course of charcoal production.

The Joint Acholi Sub Regional Leaders’ Forum has formed a technical Working Committee to champion this noble cause. Mr. Michael Aliker Tebere, the chairperson of the Committee, says the move is the last resort for environmental protection after the foreign traders refused to cooperate with authorities to exploit the tropical rainforests in globally recommended sustainable manners.

Mr. Tebere says the Forum is confident that the new measures will spur economic growth of the region by abolishing the huge profit repatriation currently taking place in the region.

“The foreign traders pay peanuts to the indigenous communities who have protected the rain forests for decades and evacuate the produced charcoal to earn abnormal profits in the booming Charcoal markets in Central Uganda” he told journalists in the region.

The practice according to the forum has entrenched poverty in the region by exploiting residents as cheap labour. In August 2018, the Technical Working Committee commenced work of enacting the enabling environment for the development of a regional commercial charcoal industry employing the use of local labour in sustainable ways. The draft of the charcoal production and regulation policy speaks of packaging and branding quality charcoal for sale in Supermarkets and shopping malls in the country. The Forum hope the charcoal will make it to the World Market to power giant roaring industrial engines as a suitable environmental alternative to the of fashion coal environmental pollutant.

Mr. Tebere explained that the policy will introduce efficient Commercial Kilns in the regions to enhance the cremation of high value trees, dramatically minimize wastage and preserve energy. Right now, the charcoal producers rely on the outdated rudimentary methods involving setting alight piles of wooden logs from under the ground. It has been proven ineffective in cremation as it leaves a lot of woods unburnt or improperly converted into charcoal. The second disadvantage is that it utilizes large amount of trees to produce few tonnages of charcoal.  

This explains why the producers engage in massive indiscriminate cutting of trees which has left several rain forests degraded in the region. The worst hit areas include Amuru, Nwoya, Lamwo and Pader districts were some of the natural rainforests have been reduced to open bare grounds. The charcoal producers use automatic hand saws to indiscriminately fell the trees from heights as close to the ground as possible, rendering their stumps incapable of regenerating into new trees. They pitch their makeshift settlements inside the thick rain forests until they have completely been defiled before relocating to another area – often engaging into other criminal activities as well.

It is now known that the chain of corruption that has devilled the forestry sector is Uganda is to blame for the unending deforestation taking place in Northern Uganda. The racket involves high ranking military officers who are well connected to State House. In the event that the charcoal dealers are unable to bribe their way, they use some of the corrupt security officers to intimate law enforcement officers opposed to the massive deforestation in the region for their charcoal to pass unregulated. Using state resources such as government vehicles, some of the charcoal dealers have even been found in possession of military wares belonging to the Uganda People’s Defense Forces. When arrested for prosecution, they often find themselves going scot free due to the sophisticated connection with security and state house officials.

It should be recalled that Uganda’s Military – the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) was in this decade found guilty of plundering mineral and forest resources of neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo while purportedly fighting the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and fined US 10 Million dollars by the International Court of Justice.

At home, similar plunder is going unpunished. In Amuru district, the district Chairperson Mr. Michael Lakony and the Presidential representative in the district, the Resident District Commissioner, Ms. Agnes Linda Auma recovered UPDF military ponchos from the charcoal dealers during a recent operation to destroy settlements of illegal charcoal dealers. At least 189 of the dealers were arrested during the operation which destroyed more than 2,000 bags of charcoal estimated to be more than 20,000 tones.  

The leaders said the current legal regimes have failed in stopping the charcoal dealers from indiscriminate tree cutting. Mr. Tebere says it is against such background that the Joint Acholi Sub Regional Leaders’ Forum would like to turn the boom in Charcoal from the region into an organized industry capable of providing jobs to the indigenous people. It will ensure that Environmental Committees are set up at parish levels to mobilize residents into Charcoal Cooperatives for the protection and production of commercial Charcoal.

The Environmental Committees will also be in charge of planting and maintaining new tree Plantations on private pieces of land. They will collaboratively manage the forest resources with the help of the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and the National Forestry Authority (NFA). The cooperatives technically known as the Charcoal Producers Associations will be trained and licensed by the Local Economic Committees whose responsibility will also include marketing the products as well.


Charcoal Quality


Charcoal produced from the rain forests of Northern Uganda has been ranked the top highest grade charcoal by consumers in Central Uganda. This quality has propelled Northern Uganda into the most favorite charcoal destination for commercial traders. On any given day, at least 50 large cargo trucks laden with hundreds of dual packed bags of Charcoal leave the region for Central Uganda markets. It is this heavy traffic of charcoal in the region that prompted the need to develop the regional charcoal industry.

The region’s rain forests are well endowed by quality charcoal producing natural tree varieties. Some of the trees are best known by their native Luo language names including ‘Oduku’ which grows to full maturity within a space of five years. Foresters say it can be grown as a plantation with ease for its love of tropical humid and dry climate. When properly cured, Oduku’s charcoal burn slowly with pure blue hot flames like those preferred by Chemists in Science Laboratories. This makes Oduku’s charcoal economically expendable among Kampala restaurants. In energy efficient cook stoves, Oduku is the ideal fuel for preparing a hot meal of beans as well as those fast foods the man needs before running off for office.

Odukuis not the only tree species endearing charcoal traders to Northern Uganda. Others are different varieties of tropical Acacia trees and the Shea Nut trees. The Shea Nut is rated as the Diamond Tree of the Acholi people. In addition to its heavy charcoal, the tree produces quality Nuts essentials for other economic purposes including commercial manufacture of skin care beauty products such as jellies and lotions. Its oil is a preferred delicacy among many.

The National Forestry Authority (NFA) says more than 73,000 hectares of private forests are cleared every year across the country and 7,000 hectares of protected forest reserves are destroyed annually for timber and charcoal.


Dr. Adam Branch, the Director of the Center for African Studies at Cambridge University equates the scope of environmental degradation taking place in Northern Uganda to a brilliant environmental violence carefully being perpetrated on the bodies, minds and livelihoods of individuals or communities of the region. He says the violence has destroyed the region’s natural ecosystem as well as the human physiology since some of the trees are ethnic identities of the people.

Dr. Adam asserts that the major setback in the fight against the environmental violence relates to historical violence, displacement and exploitations which took place in the region. He says for affected communities to find remedy, reparations, retribution, truth and reconciliation commissions should be set up alongside prosecutions and urgent political reforms to take care of weak environmental protection policies.

Dr Adam Branch has been leading a series of research works around the environmental violence taking place in the region. He says the Joint Acholi Sub Regional Leaders’ Forum should approach the violence with great sense of unity to defeat the entrenched roots of deforestation in the region.


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