Greening the charcoal sector in Uganda

Uganda
Ninety percent of the Ugandan population uses charcoal or firewood-based cook stoves. Photo: www.ugandacarbon.org.

Since her childhood, Kampala-based Martha Ntabadde has considered charcoal an essential household good. “We’ve used charcoal and firewood for cooking for many decades. Charcoal serves us as a reliable and more convenient source of energy,” says Martha.

According to the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), 90 percent of the Ugandan population uses charcoal or firewood-based cook stoves. Since charcoal is always high in demand, traders at Kampala’s markets call it ‘black gold’.

Highlights

  • In Uganda 80,000 hectares of forests are being cleared every year for unsustainable charcoal production
  • For 90 percent of Ugandans charcoal is an essential good for cooking
  • Improved kilns need over 30% less charcoal than traditional kilns

However, the production of charcoal and use of inefficient cook stoves leave a substantial environmental footprint, for example the uncontrolled gathering of wood contributes to deforestation. The National Forestry Authority estimates that 80,000 hectares of private and protected forests are being cleared annually in Uganda for the unsustainable production of charcoal and timber.

Aiming to build the capacity of developing countries to harness the resources of the carbon market, the United Nations Development Programme’s MDG Carbon programme links carbon finance to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). UNDP developed a Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA) study for Uganda’s charcoal sector. The study is a part of a broader initiative involving UNDP and other UN agencies, aimed at greening the sector.  This initiative encompasses all elements of the value chain from cutting down trees to the end user’s cook stove.

Finalized in December 2012, the NAMA study deals with the improvement of the production, transportation and sale of charcoal.  For example, at the production level the study focuses on local producers and the efficiency of their kilns.

"To make a significant reduction in emissions, it's essential to look at the charcoal sector in a holistic way. Thus, an improvement of the whole charcoal value chain is an imperative for transformation of the charcoal sector,” says Martha, who works today as a senior consultant in the field of climate change adaptation and mitigation.

In Uganda, like many other countries in the region, charcoal production is predominantly undertaken by rural populations in unorganized groups or by individuals. Many producers carry the charcoal to the nearest road and sell it at collection points to traders for a fluctuating daily price.

As the charcoal producers constitute the ‘poorest of the poor’, the incentive of a significantly higher, stable and assured source of income is expected to be a key driver to shift to more sustainable practices.

The introduction of more efficient portable kilns will enable many producers to continue their current trading styles, but reduces emissions of harmful black carbon and other pollutants as well as the use of wood. While traditional kilns use eight to 12 kilograms of wood for the production of one kilogram of charcoal, the improved kilns only need three to four kilograms.

Another component of the design developed in the study is the creation of an official institution at the district level. This charcoal unit would be charged with, among other activities, purchasing charcoal from producers, categorizing the type of charcoal so producers can be paid a differentiated value based on whether or not the product is sustainable.

The goal of the study is to provide Uganda with an opportunity to help shape its future low-carbon development. Reforming the charcoal sector is currently one of the most important opportunities for developing countries to reduce emissions and achieve multiple sustainable development outcomes.