Roof tiles made out of plastic waste

The Accelerator Lab of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Uganda made a rallying call to Ugandans to avert the problem of deforestation which threatens to deplete forests in the beautiful nation named as “The Pearl of Africa” by former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill when he visited the continent in 1908. This was in respect to Uganda’s beauty and natural endowments such as flora and fauna.

Our call to reverse the deforestation challenge was made through different mass media messages in both traditional and new social media platforms in multiple languages to cater for the linguistic diversity of the Ugandan populace. This was like Buganda Kingdom tradition, where it was common for chiefs to sound the “Gwanga Mujje” drum literally meaning “Nation assemble” “Standby! We are under attack, come help” to alert the community of imminent danger or the need for joint effort to accomplish a given task. (Listen to the Gwanga Mujje beat in this video:

And boom! For two weeks during which the populace had to submit their innovative solutions to deforestation, phones of the Uganda Accelerator Lab contact persons were ringing unceasingly. All were listened to and guided on how to present their solutions and participation in the solutions mapping workshop that was held on November 26th, 2019.

Besides, phone calls, other respondents made their inquiries and submissions via e-mail while others delivered hard copies of their responses to the deforestation challenge.

The UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab is now a custodian of interesting and diverse interventions developed by citizens; Government, private sector, individuals, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Community Based organizations (CBOs) and development partners.

The review team analysed all the 250 proposals and obtained; some private sector companies, community-based organizations and individuals that were invited to attend the solutions mapping workshop. The proposed solutions were telling of the complexity of deforestation challenge, how its at the hearts of many people and the capacity of Ugandans to address it.

Home-grown Solutions

The ingenuity of solutions in the proposals can be likened to a situation of a hungry man ushered into a well bedecked room with a buffet laid out: The plausible option is to serve as much food as possible on the plate that you can’t finish. To avoid that, we had a clear criterion which guided the selection process. It entailed respondents answering questions regarding their interventions. The responses guided the evaluation process.

Upon review of the submissions, the solutions were categorized in six thematic areas;

  I.    Restoration/tree growing

  II.   Renewable and sustainable clean cooking energy

  III.  Behavioral mindset change

  IV.  Smart agriculture

  V.   Recycling and innovative financing

  VI.  Data production and use of artificial intelligence

This process informed our test-bed for a portfolio of experiments. The portfolio of experiments will have some of the home-grown solutions obtained from both the field solutions safaris and this exercise.

Denis Elweu, of the Dokolo Youth Alliance, located in Northern Uganda appreciated UNDP for organizing the workshop. He said that he learnt a lot from the work of peers and picked ideas of improving his group’s solution. The youth group makes cook stoves which are marketed in schools, which are the highest consumers of firewood (biomass).

 “I thought our cook stove was the best in terms of reducing biomass fuel consumption, but I have met my colleagues who have incorporated user-led design and have a very good product. I have learned how to improve our stoves. Thank you very much UNDP for this opportunity,” Said Elweu.

Franc Kamugishya, is the founder of EcoPlastile, a private entity working with youth and women to collect and process waste plastics into durable Ecopoles, plastic lumbers and Ecofloor tiles that substitute wooden timbers and unsanitary dirty floors. The products are low cost, durable and help to eliminate plastic pollution, tackle sanitary issues, save cutting down of trees and provide jobs to the youth.

Ms. Vivian Sentamu leads a women’s group that makes briquettes as alternatives to firewood and charcoal. She left the workshop determined to advocate for energy efficiency use, “I will advocate for mindset change among our people that matooke (plantain staple food) can also taste good when one uses alternative energy than firewood and charcoal which contribute to the destruction of our forests,” Ms. Sentamu said.

Ms. Sarah Basemera of Raising Gabdho Foundation has spent most of her time doing research on alternative energy saving approaches. She finds the insulated basket clean and energy saving. This basket does not only save fuel energy but also reduces the amount of time one spends cooking. One simply pre-cooks the food, accumulates the heat, then the food is wrapped in the basket to cook minus the fire. It is a fireless cooker weaved by a group of women.

"The fireless basket is wonderful. I now spend less time in the kitchen because the fireless cooker completes the cooking process, making it cheaper to use and very convenient” narrates Ms. Basemera.

Kamugishya and Basemera’s solutions are among the hundreds of interventions submitted and being applied to avert deforestation, the question however is why is there less traction in restoring the forest cover in Uganda?

Next steps

The Accelerator Lab Team will soon embark on a solutions safari in the field to further interact with the communities that live in the enclaves of the forests in Eastern and Western Uganda. Riding on the expertise of the UNDP ICT and Geographical Information System expert (GIS), we will be using a drone to capture data on the state of forests to compliment data collected from the communities. This will further inform our portfolio of experiments which is going to be our next course of action. Don’t miss reading about this in our next blog.

Franc Kamugishya showcasing roof tiles made out of plastic waste
The fireless cooker (insulated basket). Article and photos by Hadijah Nabbale, Deborah Naatujuna and Berna Mugema
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