ARUA: Families dependent on charcoal burning in Arua District are concerned about the looming poverty as leaders ban the trade to protect the nearly depleted forest cover.
Mr Celestine Adriko, 48, has spent the last 15 years as a charcoal burner. This has been his family’s only means of survival.
Mr Adriko and other charcoal traders in the district now have to find alternative businesses or slump back into poverty.
Before the ban, Mr Adriko could spend one week burning charcoal of about 50 sacks. He would raise Shs1.4 million in two weeks from the 50 sacks each going for Shs28,000. Adriko says about eight huge tree trunks could yield up to 40 sacks of charcoal. He would mix them with immature trees to raise 50 sacks.
“This by-law is a big blow to me because I entirely depended on charcoal burning to fend for my family. But also it is true that the huge trees we used to have about 20 years ago are gone. I am unable to feed well or pay fees because the millions of money I used to earn are no more,” he said.
Families in Arua Town use charcoal since it is affordable and convenient for cooking. The demand for charcoal pushed the sack prices from Shs28,000 up to Shs48,000. But the profits from the business attracted more pangas and chainsaws that reduced the district forest coverage from 3,800ha to 1,400ha in the last 10 years.
The district forest officer, Mr Edison Aderibo, said, “We are yet to conduct biomass survey to establish the exact magnitude of the damage on the forests in the past five years but what we have is an old figure. Lower belts of Madi-Okollo, Terego still have some forest cover but Vurra County is virtually bare. And it is still illegal to sell and transport charcoal.”
To acquire licence for charcoal business outside the district, Mr Aderibo said, an individual pays Shs1.5 million monthly while those selling within the district are charged Shs100,000.
Besides the ban on unlicensed charcoal burning, the district has also proposed that those licensed to burn charcoal replace the trees within six months and if one fails, the licence is withdrawn.
According to National Environment Management Authority, Uganda loses 73,000 hectares of forest cover annually, affecting climate in the country.
As a result of the ban, charcoal dealers now hide their sacks in houses; stand by roadside holding a piece of charcoal and wave to travellers to attract buyers.
Ms Jane Adiru of Offaka village blames the charcoal burning craze on urbanisation and the increasing market demand.
“Many looked at charcoal business as a source of poverty alleviation yet they were not replacing the trees cut. People cannot afford to buy gas cookers. This ban may fail soon,” she said.
The population in Arua has risen from 368,200 people in 1991 to now 782,707 people. This increase has also caused stress on the already small forest cover in the district as people expand deeper into the erstwhile greenbelts to establish homes.
That aside, many are too poor to afford electricity or gas cylinders and their alternative is in the trees— burned charcoal or collected firewood.
District councillor for Arua Hill Division, Mr Swaleh Buga, told Daily Monitor that there is no clear provision for an alternative source of energy or income for the residents.
“Although the ban is a good move to preserve the forests, the enforcement is rushed. People now transport charcoal at night,” he said.
In 2013, about 41 farmers were trained in new technologies of producing energy through briquettes. One can earn more than Shs200,000 from monthly sales from briquettes.
According to the forest department, pole and fuel wood plantation cover 1,574 ha while natural woodland reserve is 38, 005ha.