Small Grants Changing Lives: New efficient charcoaling technologies save trees in Kamuli district

Some members of Twegundhule Charcoal Producers Association in Kamuli district waiting for carbonization to complete in their Retort kiln (Photo:UNDPUg2014).

Eighteen years ago, Paul Kironde had no job, and no money to feed his young family of three. Producing charcoal was the only available source of income for the twenty-one-year old whose one acre of land was only big enough to produce food for the family's subsistence, leaving very little to sell to cater to other needs.

Paul joined other young men and women in his village who were buying trees and burning them for charcoal. They would buy tree trunks for as low as 15,000 Uganda shillings, cut them into small pieces and pack them in to a shallow pit. This would be covered with soil and set on fire to create charcoal. This is was the popular traditional earth mound kiln. The ready charcoal was then sold to traders who would ferry it in lorries to urban markets in Kampala and Jinja.

For Paul, this was a relatively easy source of income, but many more young people were joining the trade, making the charcoal business very competitive. The increased demand for trees soon led to scarcity, which got worse following an introduction of a punitive tax on charcoal by district officials  in an attempt to stop the cutting down of trees from protected forests.

Key Highlights

  • Twegundhule Charcoal producers group comprising of 30 members received a grant of UGX 25million from the Sustainable Land Management project to establish a Retort Kiln and to purchase 4 Casamance kilns.
  • Group members were trained to plant trees and harvest them in a manner that allows them to regenerate with time.
  • The project, worth $ 4,230,730 was implemented by Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries. It was funded by Global Environment Facility, UNDP and Government of Uganda.

“Charcoal production became more difficult by day because it was illegal,” Paul recalls, adding: "A tree trunk that we used to buy at UGX 15,000 would now cost us UGX 40,000, and we could only access the natural forests at night in order to evade the law. Moreover, the yield of charcoal from the trees burnt was so low that we nearly could not break even, and so we had to cut more and more trees each time in order to get reasonable income”.

In 2013, the Enabling Environment for Sustainable Land Management (SLM) to overcome land degradation project, presented Paul with a lifeline in form of a new technology - the Retort and Casamance kilns - that could yield more charcoal from the same amount of wood, but with less risks. These kilns have increased charcoal production efficiency to as high as 40%, according to Paul.

 “The retort kiln is easy to light, easy to remove the ready charcoal, and does not require any energy collecting soil to bury the logs. Fewer logs are used to get more charcoal, and the charcoal is very good because it has no dust, and takes about two days to burn to charcoal compared to two weeks of waiting,” Paul says. He adds: “And for us, there is no more danger of falling into the fire as we try to harvest the charcoal as it used to be with the earth kiln”.

“Our customers have reported to us that this charcoal is better because it produces a blue flame which is hotter than the usual yellow flame and because of this, they are willing to pay UGX 25,000 compared to the previous price of UGX 15,000 per bag,” Jane Kabindi, a colleague of Paul reveals.

Both agree that the project has enabled them to save their trees and yet still be able to make money from charcoal production, in a more sustainable way.

The biggest challenge the group has found with the Retort kiln is its limited capacity of production, as it can only produce 6 to 8 bags of charcoal at a time. It is also expensive to build and is very bulky, often requiring members to carry huge loads of wood. Although the more portable Casamance kiln is not as efficient as the Retort, it produces pyritic water as vapour, which the charcoal producers have found very useful in killing termites in the drylands.

The SLM Project was implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries in partnership with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). It was aimed at reducing land degradation and is piloted in Kamuli and Nakasongola districts.

The four-year project also focused on legalization of charcoal as an energy source, and supported charcoal producers to form registered associations whose members were trained in the use of the Retort and Casamanace kilns.  

Paul Kironde is part of the Twegundhule Charcoal producers group which was formed in 2011 in Kamuli district. With a total of 30 members (24 men and 6 women) the group received a grant of UGX 25million, 50 percent of which was used to establish a Retort Kiln and to purchase 4 Casamance kilns. The rest of the funds were invested in tree planting and establishing bee-keeping as an additional source of income.

Besides the improved kilns, the project trained group members to plant trees and harvest them in a manner that allows them to regenerate with time, thus protecting the environment and guaranteeing them a constant source of trees, and future income.

“We now know the best types of trees for charcoal and we have been allocated 12 hectares of land by Balawoli sub-county to plant them,” Jane who is a member of the group, said.

Mr. Bernard Wabusinga, the Local Council three Chairperson for Balowoli sub-county applauds the initiative for providing a sustainable source of livelihood while also bringing the community together to conserve their environment.

“We are happy that we don’t have to fight with the charcoal producers anymore over cutting down of trees”, he says.

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