UGANDA: NORTHERN UGANDA PRONE TO GLOBAL WARMING AS CHARCOAL BUSINESS INCREASES

environment, charcoal burning, northern uganda
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Police officers setting logs on fire during a recent crackdown on illegal charcoal burning

AGAGO -UGANDA: As you approach Adilang Sub –County in Agago District, it seems God has deserted it, looking at the rising cases of tree cutting for charcoal burning. What was once a very beautiful place is now destroyed by the looters of the environmental products. In fact, Adilang like many places in Northern Uganda has been turned into a ‘Black Gold’ charcoal market.

This environmental destruction has left the region with very few indigenous tree species like shea nut trees and Afzelia Africana. “When you see the level of destruction in Adilang, you will shade tears. Our trees are gone.” Nelson Obol, an environmental activist laments

Obol, a member of Our Trees We Need Answers -a pressure group operating in Northern Uganda who witnessed environmental degradation in Acholi Sub -Region verses land grabbing by foreigners says “The charcoal dealers are foreigners from the Central and Western part of Uganda.”

“In our investigation, we found out that an area of about 5 square miles that was initially covered with shea nut trees and other indigenous tree species was left completely bare.” Obol reveals that the ring leaders in the illegal charcoal trade has been only identified as ‘Master’.

The so –called ‘Master’ and other colleagues acquired a huge chunk of land in the name of tilting and they have employed over 300 laborers to reinforce the labor force. ‘The employees work day and night.” Obol points out bitterly.

Black Star News Reporter carried out an independent investigation on the illegal charcoal trade in Agago district and found out that the illegal traders are have entered the district illegally without the knowledge of the local leaders. In their camps, they are living in makeshift structures. They use illegal routes to transport the charcoals out of the district.

The charcoal dealers use a lot of money to bribe their way out in case they are intercepted or arrested by police and the lower local leaders. “The people engaged in the forest degradation are highly connected to the power that be.” Willy Chowoo, another environmental activist and a journalist based in Gulu City told Black Star News in an interview

According to Chowoo, the illegal charcoal dealers at one point attacked Leonard Opiyo Ojok, the Chairman of Agago District who had gone for a crackdown against illegal logging and charcoal business.

Due to the rampant tree cutting in Northern Uganda, farmers have noticed a change in the rain pattern. All the districts in the region have been affected. “With the ignorance in our community, those people took advantage. You find that in the same agreement for the sale of the trees, the locals have unknowingly sold out their lands to the dealers.” Says Chowoo

The illegal tree cutting for charcoal burning has not only affected the environment but also led to increased crime rates. Young girls are being allotted to the charcoal dealers with consent of their parents, the rate of prostitution has also gone up, among other vices “The spread of HIV/AIDS is rampant.” Chowoo points out

Leonard Opiyo Ojok, the Chairman Agago District attributes the rampant illegal logging and charcoal business in Northern Uganda to ignorance coupled with poverty “Imagine our people are selling an acre of mature trees at only 2 million shillings (562.78USD), and yet one acre would fetch 20 trucks full of charcoal which can be sold in Kampala or Kenya at more than 20 million shillings (5627.75USD) for each truck.”

Ojok says following the great impact of the environmental degradation, locals have taken the law into their hands by forcefully evicting the dealers from the communities. “Right now they are setting fire on the kilns.”

Margret Laloyo, a business woman in Agago District reveals that the illegal charcoal dealers are intermarrying with the local the women in the community in a bit to be treated with respect and dignity since they will have become in –laws.

Arthur Owor, the Coordinator of Our Trees We Need Answer –pressure group describes the rampant illegal tree cutting as an extension of violence in Acholi Sub –Region, after the two decades of the Lord’s Resistance Army –LRA insurgence and that the different government arms are failing to end the vice.

“The National Environment Management Authority -NEMA, Uganda Revenue Authority -URA, and the respective local governments lack collaborative efforts to contain the massive trees cutting in Acholi Sub -Region.” Says Owor

According to the statistics from the Global Forest Watch, Uganda lost 64.3kha of rainforest from between 2002 and 2019.

The food and Agriculture Organization –FAO estimates that 1.14 tons of charcoal were produced in Uganda in 2019. The charcoal comes from Northern Uganda particularly Gulu and Agago Districts and Mid –Western district of Kyenjojo and Kibaale.

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