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Communicating the benefits of conservation energy in Uganda

Patrick Luganda, a well-known agricultural journalist in Uganda has long advised farmers on improved methods of farming. But keen to practice what he preaches, he has invested in land for growing trees as a means of generating income. With eight acres planted to eucalyptus and indigenous hardwoods, he means to prove to farmers in southeast Uganda that investing in woodlots is a sustainable and profitable approach.

Ugandan journalist Patrick Luganda is a firm believer in the importance of woodlots (WRENmedia)
Ugandan journalist Patrick Luganda is a firm believer in the importance of woodlots

For hundreds of millions of people in Africa, wood and charcoal are the primary source of fuel. But charcoal is often expensive, encourages deforestation and production processes are generally inefficient. Burning wood is no better. It is estimated that millions of women and children die as a result of respiratory illnesses from inhaling wood smoke and finding sufficient wood fuel for cooking is generally time-consuming. However, establishing woodlots is part of a two-pronged approach being promoted by Luganda in several pilot villages to provide village communities with a sustainable alternative for their fuel and cooking needs.

Investing in woodlots

Luganda first started planting trees in 2005 and within two years, the first eucalyptus trees are ready for harvesting for fencing and roofing. Trees left to mature can be used for making furniture and the larger ones for telegraph and electric poles. Once the tree is coppiced (cut above the ground) it re-shoots and grows smaller multiple branches, which can be harvested more regularly. Whilst eucalyptus dominates Luganda's woodlot, indigenous hardwoods such as Musizi (Maesopsis eminii) Muvule (Chlorophora excelsa) and Nnongo (Albizia glaberrima) are left to grow. These are slower growing but provide valuable timber for housing and other needs, including furniture making.

Leaning proudly against one of the bigger trees, Luganda explains the benefits of investing in woodlots. "Growing a few trees round the homestead can provide valuable wood for fuel and timber needs as well as give a wind break to the housing units," he says. "The initial costs for planting are minimal, the trees take little care and yet they provide valuable income for paying school fees and other investment needs."

Access to fuel

In Naminya village in Mukono District, Lawrence Lubanga is a retired politician who now concentrates on dairy farming and helping his local community to improve their livelihoods. His predominant concern is over access to wood fuel and the extravagance of using charcoal. "A lot of wood has to be cut down to produce a bag of charcoal. Each bag costs us 12,000 shillings (US$7), which is not really affordable," he states.

In the outhouse where Lubanga's wife normally cooks, she explains how smoke from the wood has blackened the walls. She adds, "Sometimes it was really difficult for us to breathe because of the smoke, which is not good for the health of my family." But she is now proud to show off the prototype of a new conservation stove, which uses less wood and has an in-built flue to carry smoke outside.

Conserving energy

Conservation stoves save energy and reduce the risks of respiratory illnesses (WRENmedia)
Conservation stoves save energy and reduce the risks of respiratory illnesses

Constructed from only local materials, the cooker is made by a local technician who works with the women to design the twin tops of the stove to fit the pans they use, conserving heat and reducing the amount of fuel required. Lubanga points out that his children are also safer as there is less risk of getting burnt.

The permanent stoves cost around 20-25,000 Ugandan shillings (US$12-15) to construct, equivalent to the cost of two bags of charcoal. Smaller portable stoves for just one pan are also made for around 10-15,000 USh (US$6-9) although involving the community to collect construction materials reduces the cost.

The soil, mixed with water and cut grass, is combined and then well-trodden to achieve the right consistency for construction. Moulded into shape, the material takes two months to dry and is coated with a black paint prepared from water, crushed carbon from old batteries and sweet potato leaves. Lubanga explains that termite soil has been found to be stronger and long-lasting, unlike ordinary garden soil which cracks under intense heat.

Communicating the benefits

The technology is simple and cost-effective but could do much to help local communities conserve fuel - saving money and resolving smoke-related health issues. Lubanga is convinced of the benefits and is keen to broadcast the advantages to others, so that his community could generate additional income by constructing the cookers on a commercial basis.

To assist in communicating the benefits of woodlots and conservation stoves, Luganda is setting up several "Village Communication and Learning Centres" by providing a central point in each village where community members can access information. As a journalist, Luganda also plans to make use of his contacts in the media, particularly in radio. The project is still in its infancy but the Faculty of Agriculture at Makerere University has expressed interest in supporting the project to generate research that is demanded at village level and help to promote other simple but improved technologies across the region.

Date published: March 2008


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The New Agriculturist is a WRENmedia production.

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