Green Charcoal empowers rural women in Mubende district, Central Uganda
Mubende - Annet, a 30 year old mother of five living in Mubende town used to spend over UGX 115, 500 (about $35) every month on charcoal used to prepare food for her family. This was a big expense for her as it accounted for 50% of her monthly income.
Recently however, this changed due to the introduction of “green charcoal” (briquettes) in her district. With this new type of fuel, Annet’s budget has been halved, she now spends about UGX 59,400 (about $18) on charcoal per month.
“The briquettes are cheaper, dustless and burn longer,” Annet says. Adding that they have helped her save time - because they are easily available and money, which she is now using for her business - selling food crops in the market.
- Briquettes are produced by taking biomass - mostly made up of maize cobs, agro-based left overs or small branches
- The ‘Green Charcoal Sisters’ which is composed of 20 produces up to five tons of briquettes a week.
- Women should be given the opportunity to take part in the design and creation of sustainable solutions to combat climate change and forest degradation
“Green charcoal” was introduced to Mubende district when a group of women aged between 30 – 50 years old sought for a way to fend for their families. These women who did not have the opportunity to complete school appealed to their district local government to support them.
It is through this request that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s, “Addressing barriers to adoption of improved charcoal production technologies and sustainable land management practices through integrated approach project” came in to provide them with equipment and training that enabled them make briquettes.
Code named “Green Charcoal Project,” the initiative has aided the women to get a new lease on life providing a life skill and a source of income for them. The 20 strong women group popularly known as the ‘Green Charcoal Sisters’ now produces up to five tons of briquettes a week.
These briquettes are produced by taking biomass - mostly made up of maize cobs, agro-based left overs or small branches which may be from invasive woody species - through a combustion chamber that is heated at 550°C in the absence of oxygen. The temperature of the carbonizer, where the biomass mixture is slowly burned, is maintained by combustion of the pyrolysis gases that are recycled thus avoiding the release of greenhouse and toxic gases to the atmosphere.
“The training and equipment has allowed us to take part in an income generating activity that enables us to provide for our households without destroying our environment,” Betty Kasigazi, a member of the group says.
She adds that the training also helped to change their perception on the role they must play as women in both household income generation as well as environment protection.
The group’s chairperson, Betty Nalumansi adds that, “although we were introduced to several other technologies like the Retort and Casamance Kilns which generate good quality charcoal using less wood in the villages, we found briquette production more appropriate for us.”
According to Betty, this is because the market for briquettes is largely unsatisfied. A kilo of briquettes is sold at Ushs 1,320 (about $0.40) which is much less than the price of traditional charcoal.
“If we sell all the briquettes produced in a week, each member receives about Ushs 330,000 (about $100). This helps us to pay school fees and buy basic household items like soap, paraffin, salt and sugar,” Betty adds.
On average, each member is fending for at least five to seven people living in their households.
The “sisters” experience demonstrates how simple innovations can lead to socio-economic transformation as well as ownership. It can be used as an example to inform other productive sectors, such as forestry, where women have always played a significant role in sustainable forest and land management through agroforestry to collecting fuelwood and developing non-wood forest products for food, medicine, and shelter.
Forest-related development initiatives, such as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (known as REDD+), can learn from this experience to involve women in programme design and implementation especially exploiting approaches and technologies that are easily adapted to the needs of forest communities and the end product users.
Women should therefore be given the opportunity to take part in the design and creation of sustainable solutions to climate change and forest conservation challenges as household managers, farmers, and consumers. Bringing women in at the very promotes both gender equality and sustainable development.
The success of the ‘Green Charcoal Sisters’ is an inspiring example of how simple actions can transform societies and how, when empowered, women can break down barriers between men and women.